A rabbit rat is a genus of just two unusual rodents in the Conilurus family that primarily lives along the coastline of Australia. It is recognized by its unique looking tail and long, rabbit-like ears. The one surviving member of this species is declining in number and the other is already considered extinct.
The tiny brush-tailed rabbit rat is the only surviving member of this species. It weighs just 1/3 of a pound (150 g) and is covered in light brown fur with a cream colored belly and a long tufted tail. It prefers to live along the coast in Australia’s Northern Territory in forests of Eucalyptus trees and grasslands.
The rabbit rat is very particular about where it makes its home and nests only in hollow Eucalyptus logs under perennial grasses or in the crowns of palm trees. It will change its nesting location frequently, usually each time a new litter of babies is born. The female rabbit rat usually gives birth several times a year, after a gestation period of 28 days. Babies are pink and hairless at birth, with closed eyes and ears that may not open for nearly two weeks.
While rabbit rats nest among the treetops during the daytime, they are nocturnal and descend to the ground to forage for food for most of the night. Their diet is varied and consists of seeds, fruits, grass, and leaves. They will also occasionally feed on small invertebrates including spiders and grasshoppers.
The population of the rabbit rat has decreased by over 50% in recent years. This is attributed to disease and predators, particularly feral cats. It may also be due to changes in habitat due to damage from fires, mining, and deforestation. Overgrazing by livestock has also caused foraging areas to be decimated in many areas where this rodent once thrived.
The brush-tailed rabbit rat is listed as endangered in Australia, meaning that it is rapidly disappearing from the planet and threatened with imminent extinction. Another species, the white-footed rabbit rat, is thought to be extinct already, as none of them have been spotted for well over a hundred years. Australia is currently attempting to reintroduce the rabbit rat to the Northern Territory, especially in locations that have a low fire risk. Authorities also trying to work with the Aboriginal population to reduce the amount of feral cats in areas where these rats still live.