Question: Is this rat native or introduced?
A native Bush Rat, Rattus fuscipesPhotographer: Gary Lewis. Source: Gary Lewis Photographics Pty Ltd.
Answer: This little creature is a Bush Rat, Rattus fuscipes. It’s one of Australia’s many species of native rat.
Native rats are often mistaken for introduced rats. In eastern Australia, people most often confuse the Bush Rat and the introduced Black Rat, Rattus rattus.
This is an easy mistake to make. The two species are similar in size and both have fur that is quite variable in its colour and pattern.
The subspecies of Bush Rat that lives in eastern Australia is called Rattus fuscipes assimilis. Any Latin scholar will tell you the latter name, assimilis, means ‘similar’. It was given the name assimilis because it looks so much like the introduced Black Rat.
An introduced Black Rat, Rattus rattusPhotographer: Ian McCann. Source: Parks Victoria.
Despite their similarities, there are a number of ways to distinguish between the Bush Rat and the Black Rat.
These are good identification points but it is always worth checking with a reliable expert.
Museum Victoria has a free identification service. If you would like to have something identified, you can attach a photograph to our online enquiry form or contact the Melbourne Museum Discovery Centre.
Without a photo and only a brief description, it's quite hard for us to identify a specimen. We will pass this on to our resident experts to see if they have an idea, but it would definitely help if you provided a description of the size and colour of the rat, as well as an image, to our identification service link above.
After consulting one of our experts, it seems, from the brief description, that you may have the introduced black rat (rattus rattus) in your garage. Bush Rats tend to be restricted to the bush and we are unaware of any instance where they would frequent chook yards. Again, a photograph would be most helpful in determining the identification.
Hi Penny - The fact that it had a furry tail eliminates any kind of rat. There are, however, a number of other small native mammals with furry tails. We suggest that you have a look through the mammal photos on the Bioinformatics site, and see if any of those look right. The Collection Manager of Mammalogy suggests that you may wish to start with the phascogale.
Hi Justine, although you have provided an outstanding description, in order to offer an accurate identification, the Collection Manager will require an image of the animal. Could you please take some photos and email them through to us at email@example.com and quote your enquiry number, DC ENQ 70749.
Experience would suggest that the rat in question is not the Bush Rat but one of its more adventurous cousins the Black Rat or Brown Rat. If it is a Bush Rat then it should not be a problem.
Hi, the Museum can help with identifying the specimen of rats you have at your property (provided we have a clear image or the specimen) but we cannot offer advice on birth control. Perhaps contacting your local vet or zoo will assist you with this type of information.
You can attach your images via our online enquiry service and we will have the Collection Manager of Mammalogy identify your rat.
Hi Heather - Despite the common name, the Black Rat Rattus rattus is rarely black - individuals can vary from a tan or fawn colour to darker browns and greys, sometimes with pale or white ventral regions, however this pale pelt is not always evident and as such is not always useful for definitive identification.
Although the related Bush Rat Rattus fuscipes and Swamp Rat Rattus lutreolus are also variable in colour, a good rule of thumb is if the animal has a tail length greather than the remaining body size, it is likelty to be R. rattus.
Hi Tim - there are a couple of issues here; firstly Bush Rats are not vermin; they are a native species and as such do not have the health and hygeine concerns associated with introduced rodents such as the Black Rat, Brown Rat and House Mouse.
Having said that, without seeing the specimens it is difficult to be certain what species of Rat your neighbour is reffering to, but it is unlikely to be a Bush Rat Rattus fuscipes, as this species is not known from the Melbourne Metropolitan area. In order for us to assist, could you or your neighbour photograph one of the animals in question and send it to us via the "Contact Us" link at the bottom of this page? This way we can resolve what animal; we are dealing with.
Hi Mel - this is a complex one, as there are a few seperate creatures involved. First of all, the animal in the image is not a rat or a rodent of any kind - this is an Antechinus; although these are rodent shaped and sized, they are entirely different animals - Antechinus are marsupials; they are much more closely related to Tasmanian Devils and Quolls than they are to rats and mice. The distinctive conical head, pointed snout and row of sharp molars make it easy to tell this is not a rat or mouse.
Regarding the burrow complex, this sounds more like the work of rats if it is extensive, as Antechinus would not build an extensive network (but do make small burrows in undergrowth). Both Bush Rats Rattus fuscipes (which are native rodents) and Black Rats Rattus rattus build networks of burrows, and both are common in the Dandenongs. If you wanted to be certain who the burrowers are, we would need to see a picture of one of the culprits, which can be sent to us by using the 'Contact Us' option at the bottom of the page.
Hi Peter - although an image would be useful so we could be more definitive, it certainly is possible going by your description that you have a combination of Native and Introduced Rat species living in relatively close proximity. The introduced Rattus rattus is far more likely to be the 'pest' one in the chook house, but both Bush and Black Rats can build a network of burrows. If you have the chance, try to gauge the tail length relative to its body when you next see one - if the tail is longer than the rest of the body, the chances of it being a Black Rat are very high.
Hoppe this helps
We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.
I know this is in Queensland, but I was hoping you could help identify this animal. It sort of looks like a rat but it doesn't walk- it sort of hops. It really doesn't worry about humans however if you get too close, it gets pretty defensive and jumps at you. It jumped about 2ft in the air. I live in Brisbane, next to a main road and across the other side is a state forest. Here is a link to a photo taken with the i-phone so sorry about the quality!
Hi Amie - Thanks for the identification request; I have taken the liberty of removing the link you included in your comment, as the link was causing formatting problems with our website.
I did closely examine the animal in the image you sent us, and I can confirm that the animal is indeed liklely to be a species of Rattus, however because your image doesn't show the full length of the tail of the animal, it isn't possible to identify the species. The behaviour and setting you describe unfortunately don't help to differentiate the animal from an introduced Black Rat Rattus rattus and native rats.
If you have any additional images, feel free to send them to us via the "Contact Us" link at the bottom of this page and we will do our best to identify the animal as best we can.
Hi Jan, our expert has said that the native rats in victoria tend to avoid homes and require some native bushland, so it is unlikely that baiting inside the house will kill native rats.
Hi Natalie - we checked with our Mammalogy Curator on this, and he has said the following in response to your query:
They will stay as long as conditions are suitable for burrows and there is sufficient food to sustain them. Swamp rats are not migratory and will remain in place as long as conditions are suitable. My suspicion is that swamp rats are far more abundant this year given the favourable conditions of the last two years. With the next inevitable drought their numbers will decline and their tunnel systems will fade with them.
Hope this helps
Your image did not come through the online comment, if you would like us to identify the animal please submit your request and image through our Ask the Experts form.
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