There is one little creature that lives in our open space that has rarely been seen by humans.  This nocturnal creature is a very important contributer to our ecosystem.  If this species were to disappear, so much of our other wildlife and plants would not survive.  I am talking about the Dusky-footed woodrat. 

Dusky-footed woodrats are small, cinnamon- to gray-colored rodents native to California.  They have long whiskers, rounded ears, and furry tails. The furred tail helps to distinguish them from non-native black rats.

The name “dusky-footed” refers to their dark-colored feet. Dusky-footed woodrats average about 16 inches in length. This measurement includes their long tails, which account for nearly half their body length.

Woodrats’ instinct to gather food and sticks also sometimes drives them to pick up shiny objects too, which is why they’re also called packrats and trade rats.
Woodrat Home
If you have hiked any of the shaded trails in the Conejo Valley, chances are you have spotted a woodrat house.  Woodrats are known for thier intricate stick houses.  Each house contains many rooms that have designated purposes just like our houses.  There is usually a 'kitchen' where they store their food.  There is a 'bathroom' where they relieve themselves. There is also a bedroom where they sleep.  

Each house is usually only occupied by one woodrat unless it is a mama woodrat raising her young.  The stick houses on the ground are occupied by the female.  The males live in stick houses in the trees.  

These houses can reach up to five feet high and eight feet wide.  Woodrats sometimes line their houses with leaves of plants that repel insects and make their homes more comfortable. 
Woodrat Diet
Woodrats eat leaves, flowers, buds, berries, seeds, nuts, acorns and fungi they forage and collect at night and store in larders in their houses for future meals. Some plants are “aged” to reduce toxins and bitter flavors. Other collected plants, such as bay laurel leaves, help reduce fleas, mites and other parasites in the larders, house, and on the woodrat itself. Favorite foods include poison oak, toyon, coffeeberry, coast live oak, and bay laurel.
Santa Monica Mountain Woodrat
The Santa Monica Mountains Fund is the official non-profit supporting the National Park Service (NPS) in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. One of the things I have always appreciated about this organization is the training it provides its volunteers and the local community.  

This past year, the trainings have been recorded zoom calls with experts and enthusiasts in fields that directly relate to our local open space.  These training sessions have also included presentations from rangers at other national parks. If you are interested in seeing all of the various topics and trainings, be sure to visit the SAMO Youtube page here:

In this video, Ranger Aaron shares about the important role of the woodrat. Not only do they help support our native plants and animals, but their social life and architectural skills are something to marvel at.  In this presentation, Ranger Aaron shares some fantastic footage of this nocternal animal at work. 
To read earlier issues of the Conejo Valley Nature Club Newsletter visit: 
If you would like this information in a format you can distribute to your class, let's chat! Email Christina at naturekidsactivities@gmail.com
Copyright © *2021* *Nature Kids Activities*, All rights reserved.