Neotoma lepida
(Desert Woodrat)

Order: Rodentia
Order Description:Rodents
Family: Cricetidae
Family Description:
Mice and Rats

The desert woodrat is yellowish brown to grayish brown above and gray below. They may have streaks of black on their back. Their tail is bicolored, dark on top and white below and their feet are white. Their total length is 8 ¾ to 15 inches (225-380 mm), and tail length is 3 ¾ to 7 ¼ inches (95-188 mm).

From southeastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho, south to Baja California and extreme northwestern Sonora, Mexico.

Found in sagebrush scrub, in chaparralClick word for definition, and in deserts and rocky slopes with scattered cactus, yucca, pine/juniper, and other low vegetation. In Idaho, occupies rocky areas of desert habitatClick word for definition in greasewood, sagebrush and hopsage.

They feed on beans and leaves of mesquite, on juniper, and on parts of available cacti, apparently without getting injured by the spines, creosote bush, thistle, and ephreda. They will also eat other green vegetation, seeds, fruits, acorns, and pine nuts.


The desert woodrat, like most woodrats are primarily nocturnalClick word for definition. When not out and about feeding they occupy an elaborate den built of debris on the ground, in vegetation, along a cliff, or occasionally in a tree. They often use a kangaroo rat or ground squirrel burrow for their den. They carry in sticks, cactus spines and other debris and carefully pile it over the burrow entrance, seemingly to “fortify” it. This is indicative of the “packrat” nature of woodrats. They have a strong tendency to carry in objects, including other animal dung, to their den sites and thus can create fairly large piles of debris on the desert floor. They are capable of deriving water from their diet. This species is isolated and scarce within their Idaho range. Desert woodrats have a curious behavioral trait of rattling their tail against dry desert vegetation which has a sound similar to rattlesnakes. They are probably preyed on by owls, coyotes, perhaps bobcats, and snakes.

GestationClick word for definition lasts 30-36 days. Female produces 4 or more litters/yr. litterClick word for definition size usually varies from 2-3 young, but may number 1-5. Young are weanedClick word for definition in 21-34 days (depending on litter size), and reach sexual maturity in 2-3 mo.

Status: Unprotected nongame species

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Information written by Donald Streubel,© 2000
Map image provided by
Stephen Burton,© 2000
Design by Ean Harker©1999, 2000.