Have You Discovered a Woodrat?

The Allegheny woodrat has the distinction of being designated endangered or threatened in more states than any other American rodent. We often get questions from people who have taken an interest in woodrats and think they may have one living nearby. Some of our best research tips come from sharp observers with a concern for conservation. This page should help you decide if an animal you've seen is the genuine article.

Where to look.The Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister) is the only woodrat that inhabits the northeastern United States. Older field guides may include it with the widespread eastern woodrat, Neotoma floridana, but we now know from genetic studies that it is distinct. In general, any woodrat in the "blue" range is an Allegheny woodrat. Within that range, woodrats require rocky habitats such as caves, cliffs, outcrops, and boulder piles. (The "blue" range map is slightly inaccurate, as Allegheny woodrats range into northwestern Alabama, and eastern woodrats are found in some parts of the "blue" range in extreme western NC & eastern Tennessee .)

One way to tell if woodrats are present is to look for their 'latrines,' where many droppings are deposited. Other rodents don't make latrines. The droppings are also a characteristic size and shape, as shown. Fresh ones are shiny black.

Woodrat latrine

Not your everyday Rat! The Allegheny Woodrat (Neotoma magister) is most often confused with a non-native rodent species, the Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus).  Here are key physical differences that set the Allegheny Woodrat apart from the Norway Rat.

Allegheny Woodrat
Norway Rat
Blunt nose
Pointed nose
Long whiskers Short whiskers
Big ears Smaller ears
Furry tail
Naked tail

Woodrat sightings help us determine where the Allegheny woodrat is surviving. Think you've seen a woodrat or know where one lives? If you have information, we'd like to hear about it. Contact Dr. Janet Wright (wright@dickinson.edu).

A product of Team Woodrat Summer 2002 (Christopher Magel and Laura Pell, Dickinson College)