Form and Function

             The dusky-footed wood rat has adapted to its environment several different ways. Its preference to being nocturnal, the way it moves and communicates, and how it chooses to react to environmental stimuli all contribute to its role in society and the food chain.
            The wood rat is nocturnal for a few reasons. For one, it escapes most of its predators. Some of its predators include the bobcats, snakes, and hawks, all of which roam during the day and sleep at night. This animal still has to be quiet, however, it can scurry around looking for food without too much worry of running into its predators around every corner. Another reason the wood rat is nocturnal is to eliminate its competition. While most animals are not nocturnal, it has free range to the vegetation in its area. Brown Neotoma fuscipes resting on a branch.
            Teeth are very important for eating. The muskrat has sharp incisor teeth in each jaw, which grow throughout their whole lives (United States Fauna, 2004). These incisor teeth cut into the vegetation, such as Blackberry, Maul Oak, Valley Oak, and the Soap plant, while the other teeth are used for chewing (Encyclopedia of Life). Living in forests, their teeth are crucial for cutting through sticks to make homes as well. To learn more about their habitat life, please refer to the Habitat page.  
           At night, the wood rat moves around cautiously through the brushy or forested areas where it lives. In search for food, the wood rat prefer to run along branches or limbs of trees in order to eliminate noise. It would rather run on a ground trail due to if being tracked by a predator, the predictability of which direction the wood rat is going is decreased. Also, running on a ground trail is more appealing because it eliminates noise; for example: running on brush and crackling leaves creates much more of a disturbance (Bonadio, 2000).
            In order to move quickly and quietly, the wood rat must have a small body. It is about 50 centimeters in length and weighs about 260 grams (Encyclopedia of Life). Its color of a light brown coat helps it blend in to its surroundings in the forest. The claws, used for making homes and scurrying along the trees, are short, sharp, and come to a point. It’s tail, which can also determine means of communication, is in between 17 and 22 centimeters long (Encyclopedia of Life).  
           Communication between wood rats is very specific depending on their mood. Tolerance between houses is normal, besides a few arguments now and then. When a wood rat is fighting with another male, the ears are pulled back tight. Another indication of a fight is when both animals open and close their mouths continuously while beat their tails against the ground. Initiation of the fight occurs when one wood rat charges the other and biting (Bonadio, 2000). Another way of communication between these active wood rats is their high squeaking noise (Donat, 1933).
             Also, during mating, the communication between males and females changes many times. At first, the female is pouncing around happily, waiting for its mate. The male chooses one female, lives in their home with them, and then reproduces. After gestation begins, the female may get annoyed with the male. If a female gets intolerant, the male leaves and finds a new female to mate with. Once mated, he will live alone in their own home of which he built himself.
           The way this organism reacts to environmental stimuli is crucial to its daily survival.  Its body shape, means of communication and travel, and its nocturnal lifestyle help it maintain a day-to-day routine.

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Gabriella Tuminello and Emma Conway of the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. Bio 203 - Spring 2014