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Greater stick-nest rat facts for kids

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Greater stick-nest rat
Greater Sticknest Rat.JPG
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Genus:
Leporillus
Species:
conditor
Distribution Map Leporillus conditor AUS (2).png

The greater stick-nest rat, also known as the house-building rat and wopilkara (Leporillus conditor) is a species of rodent in the family Muridae. They are about the size of a small rabbit and construct large nests of interwoven sticks. Once widespread across southern Australia, the population was reduced after European colonisation to one offshore island. The species has since been reintroduced to a series of protected and monitored areas, with varying levels of success.

Taxonomy

A description of the species was given in a report of the explorer Charles Sturt, and published in 1848. The species was placed as genus Mus, and later assigned to Leporillus, and so allied to the murid family of rodents. The type was collected in vegetation on the Darling River, around 45 miles from Laidley Ponds, the disposition of this specimen is unknown.

Description

The species has a broad and short head, with wide and rounded ears. The length of the head and body combined in 190 to 260 millimetres, and a tail noticeably shorter than that, measuring from 148 to 180 mm. The weight ranges from 190 to 450 grams. The pelage is a uniform grey-brown colour at the upper-side, the buff to grey beneath is paler and the two colours blend where they meet. The visible parts of the foot are whitish at the inside and greyish brown at the outside, this is from 42 to 48 mm in length. The female possesses four teats, two pairs at the inguinal region.

Behaviour

The behavioural description is of a passive and gentle species, largely active at night, with a herbivorous diet largely composed of succulent leaves. The 'nest' of L. conditor is sited at a cave, rocky outcrop or over a shrub, the construction reaching a metre in height and around two metres in width. The larger part of the nest is tightly woven from sticks, the inner part is built from softer grassy material.

Mainland populations were reported to prefer building nests over slight depressions in the ground or above the burrows of other animals - which were used as escape routes - and some animals were known to weight their nests with small rocks.

Nests were reported to be strong and secure enough to repel dingos and other predators.

Breeding may occur throughout the year, although most often recorded during the austral spring, April to May, and they produce a litter of between one and four young.

Distribution and habitat

It is now found naturally only in Australia on the Franklin Islands, with introduced or reintroduced populations on St Peter Island in the Nuyts Archipelago, Reevesby Island, Salutation Island, and a fenced off area at Roxby Downs in South Australia.

Reintroduction attempts at Faure Island and Heirisson Prong in WA, Yookamurra Sanctuary and Venus Bay Conservation Park in SA, and Scotia Sanctuary in NSW all failed. The longterm success of a series of translocations to the fenced Mount Gibson Sanctuary in WA is as yet undetermined, while reintroduction attempts began in NSW's Mallee Cliffs National Park in September 2020.

The species is scheduled to be reintroduced to Dirk Hartog Island following the complete removal of livestock and feral cats from the island. It will also be translocated to a fenced landscape in NSW's Sturt National Park.

It was formerly widespread in semi-arid habitat on the mainland, where the soils were shallow with calcareous underlying strata. Before the sharp decline in population in the late nineteenth century, the species was found south of a line from Shark Bay to the meeting of the rivers at the Murray–Darling basin and above the 28° southern latitude. The drastic contraction of the distribution range continued until the species could only be found at an island in the Nuyts Archipelago, from this population the species was reintroduced to the protected areas on the mainland and other islands.

The drastic reduction in the range of this mammal is associated with the collapse of mammalian fauna in Australia (1875–1925), the causes of which are uncertain. The susceptibility of this species to a theorised epizootic event, an unidentified disease spreading from Western Australia, was estimated to be high in modelling of mammal's relative immunity.

Its natural habitat is dry savanna, with perennial shrubland, especially of succulent and semi-succulent plant species including the chenopod and pig-face genera.

The species is currently being bred in captivity at Monarto Safari Park and Adelaide Zoo, with progeny provided to reintroduction projects.

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