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What is a Water Rat?

By Bobbie Fredericks
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A water rat is specifically adapted for hunting in and living near water. There are 18 unrelated species of these rodents, found on several continents. Muskrats, water voles, rakalis, and golden-bellied water rats all fall under this classification.

While all rats are in the family muridae, they are not all closely related. Some species known as water rats are not actually rats, but all are rodents. Many are mistaken for other animals, such as beavers or platypus. Most are carnivores, but some are not. Animals known as water rats vary widely in size and habitat.

The water vole is indigenous to Europe. Water voles are about six to eight inches (15.24 to 20.32 cm) long, not including their tails, and they weigh about six to ten ounces (170 to 283.5 grams). Their fur is brown or black, and they have short, hairy tails. Water voles have small ears with skin flaps, which close to prevent water entering. Unlike most types of water rat, water voles are herbivores.

Rakali are larger, at 9 to 15 inches (22.86 to 38.1 cm) in length, and 12 to 45 ounces (340 to 1275 grams), with a long broad tail measuring 9.5 to 13.5 inches (24.2 to 34.5 cm). This mammal is native to Australia, and burrows into the banks of lakes and rivers. Rakali have flat heads, long noses, and webbed hind feet. Their fur is brown or black, with a white belly. Diet for the rakali is varied and includes insects, fish, shellfish, birds, and eggs.

Muskrats are in the same family as beavers. They live in burrows, swamps, and marshes. Muskrats are large and plump, usually about 12 inches (30.5 cm) long and weigh up to 63 ounces (1.78 kg) as adults. They have webbed hind feet and glossy brown fur. Communication is done by releasing a substance called musk from their glands because their hearing, vision, and smell are poor.

The golden-bellied water rat is found in Australia, Tanzania, and New Guinea. They live near lakes and rivers, eating fish and shellfish. Their fur is brown or gray, with white-tipped tails and, occasionally, lighter underbellies. The golden-bellied water rat is about 30 ounces (850.5 grams) fully grown. Unlike other water rats their fur is not waterproof, but all four feet are webbed.

Earless water rats are found in New Guinea. Their hind feet are long and webbed, and their ears are completely hidden. The waterproof fur of the earless water rat is brown on the back and white on the belly. Their long tails are tipped with white. They are six to nine inches (15.24 to 22.86 cm) long, and weigh about six ounces (170 grams).

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Discussion Comments
By anon1005007 — On May 31, 2021

Rakali and Golden-bellied water rats are the same animal.

By anon1005006 — On May 31, 2021

Instead of "Tanzania" I think that you meant "Tasmania".

By Krunchyman — On Oct 08, 2014

It's interesting to hear that some animals are built to adapt to their surroundings. While I'm not sure how it's done, genetics are a very interesting thing.

From reading the article you can tell that the rats can easily adapt to their surroundings because of their advantages with the water. While it would be a problem to other animals, or even the "average" rat, it's certainly no trouble for them. For example, earless water rats have hind feet that are webbed and long, in a similar manner to that of a duck.

Adding onto this, water voles have ears that are small enough so that water won't enter when they travel under it. Overall, genetics are a very interesting thing. Whether you're doing research on the trees of the jungle, or traveling through a hot desert, always remember that animals can adapt to their surroundings very well.

By Chmander — On Oct 08, 2014

You know, considering how many species of rats there are, and also, considering the fact that some of them might not be as vicious as others (such as the ones that live in Tanzania), it really makes me wonder if rats can and have been kept as pets. Though I'm sure that rats have been kept as pets in the past, one problem with this is that they carry diseases.

Because of this, wouldn't it be difficult to tame them, per se? However, considering how some other animals (which have been known to carry diseases as well) have been turned into pets, it really goes to show that some of them can be tamed.

For example, skunks. For them, rabies aren't the problem, it's their putrid stench. However, for those who are owned as pets, their stench is removed from them at a very young age. This is a very wise decision. Overall, while there are some animals which can't be tamed, on the other hand, we can do out best to ensure that they become as domesticated as possible.

By Hazali — On Oct 07, 2014

After reading this article, I'm really surprised to hear that there are so many species of rats. In my opinion, it really shows how more than often, when people think of rats, they always associate them as not being divided into groups. This is the case for me as well.

However, as is the case with other animals, rats can be divided into many subgroups and species. Using an example, this is the same case with dogs. I mean, do we even realize how many species of dogs there are? Despite the fact that we know there are lots of breeds of said animal.

Obviously, everyone knows that dogs have many different breeds, and that using the term "dog" is way too general. However, overall, I feel that one reason why people aren't aware of the many species that rats have is because they are usually feared and hated, and we (people) choose to stay as far away from them as possible. At least that's what my perspective is.

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