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Byron Shire
February 25, 2021

Is this rat a friend or foe?

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A native baby rodent that was recently rescued. Photo WIRES Northern Rivers.

Annabelle Hill

Please don’t be fooled, what might appear to be a rat or mouse may in actual fact be a native rodent and quite possibly an endangered species. A friend rather than a foe.

Melomys, sometimes known as mosaic-tailed rats, are Australian native rodents. There are a number of species in the Northern Rivers, including the Grasslands and the Fawn-footed melomys.

The native Bush rat lives in eucalypt and rain forests and eats insects, fungi, seeds roots and plant stems. In the Northern Rivers we also have the Swamp rat and the Water rat. These shy creatures rarely move in to human houses, but are sometimes found around sheds and rural properties. The New Holland mouse (listed as vulnerable) is similar to the introduced House mouse but does not have a pungent odour.

A native baby rodent that was recently rescued. Photo WIRES Northern Rivers.

There are also a number of species of Antechinus in Northern NSW; the Brown, Dusky and Yellow-footed as well as the Black-tailed antechinus that was first discovered in the Border Ranges in 2014. Together with Planigales (which are listed as vulnerable to extinction), these small marsupials are often mistaken for mice. Being carnivores, they eat insects such as cockroaches, so are great inhabitants around your house.

It can be difficult to identify these species of small mammals, particularly when they are young. Please be careful when dealing with mice and rats around your home as you could be accidentally killing protected native wildlife, who might be eating less desirable insect pests and who help maintain the fragile balance of biodiversity in our environment.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a normal (feral) rat or mice and a native as when they are babies they all look the same. Adult feral rats tend to have a long tail, toes of different lengths and large ears. There are various websites which contain photos and descriptions.

The best way to catch rats or mice is with a live trap that enables animals to go in and can be let out outside. They can be obtained from hardware stores. The most common bait to be placed in the live trap is peanut butter on bread.

People notice them the most during winter because snakes are less active and it is cold outside and they want to come inside.

Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) is an organisation which rescues and cares for native animals.

If you are interested in getting involved in rescuing animals WIRES provide full training to volunteers and industry.

If you find an injured animal, and it is safe to do so (do not touch bats as they can carry deadly diseases) transporting animals to local vets is a huge help and allows animals to get emergency treatment as soon as possible giving them their best chance of survival.

Contact WIRES for rescues, advice or enquiries. The 24-hour hotline is for all calls to WIRES in the Northern Rivers – 6628 1898.

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