Taxonomic name: Rattus exulans (Peale 1848)
Synonyms: Mus exulans Peale, 1848, Mus maorium Hutton, 1877, 1879
Common names: kiore (Maori), Kleine Pazifikratte (German), Maori rat (English), Pacific rat (English), Polynesian rat (English), rat du Pacifique (French), rat Polynésien (French), tikus Polynesia (Indonesia)
Organism type: mammal
The Pacific rat is the smallest of the three rats closely associated with humans. The fur is brown and its tail length is only slightly longer or shorter than the combined head and body length. Rattus exulans is recognised as a predator of native insects, lizards and birds, a browser of native flora and an agricultural pest. There appears to be no island groups reached by the Polynesians that did not receive Rattus exulans, although not all islands in a group were necessarily colonised.
agricultural areas, coastland, natural forests, planted forests, range/grasslands, riparian zones, ruderal/disturbed, scrub/shrublands, urban areas, wetlands
Pacific rats can live in a wide range of habitats including grassland, scrub and forest, however they do require adequate food supplies and shelter (especially in temperate latitudes). They are able to climb trees easily where at least some of their feeding is done, but are not good swimmers. Snap trap success results have shown annual cycles in the abundance of R. exulans on Tiritiri Island in New Zealand. R. exulans are predominantly nocturnal, but become active just before dark during times of high density.
Husking stations have been found amongst tree roots, within wide fissures in tree trunks at ground level, amongst rock piles, under the enlarged bases of fronds shed from nikau palms, and occasionally up trees – all characteristically dry places (Campbell et al., 1984). Rattus exulans is considered to be a fairly sedentary animal with a limited home range (Spennemann, 1997).
Atkinson and Towns (2001) report numerous species of New Zealand flora and fauna that are vulnerable to Pacific rats (Rattus exulans). Most vulnerable amongst invertebrates are large, flightless species; especially those that need to descend to ground level for part of their life-cycle. Lizard populations have also been shown to increase following the removal of Rattus exulans. In Hawai'i and New Zealand there are examples of detrimental effects on both burrowing petrels and on red-tailed tropicbirds. In the Leeward Islands of Hawai'i, it has been shown that predation on seabirds only becomes significant after storms have reduced the fruiting of food plants. Fatal attacks by R. exulans on adult Laysan albatrosses appear likely to be associated with the same factor. R. exulans is also known to browse native flora (including trees, shrubs, fungi, sedges, grasses, orchids and other herbaceous plants and lianes), although the magnitude of such effects has been difficult to determine (Atkinson and Atkinson, 2000).
R. exulans is a major agricultural pest throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific region. Crops damaged by this species include rice, maize, sugarcane, coconut, cacao, pineapple, and root crops.
The larger species of Rattus rattus and Rattus norvegicus are known to displace the Pacific rat (Rattus exulans) from its environmental niche (Spennemann, 1997).
The Polynesian rat is thought to have originated from the Malayan region, and to have been deliberately introduced to many islands by Polynesians who considered it a valuable food source (Spennemann, 1997).
Native range: The Pacific rat is native to Southeast Asia.
Present in India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, Philippines, Taiwan, USA, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Pitcairn, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuata, Wallis and Futuna, and US minor outlying islands.It has dispersed with humans across the western and central Pacific. They occur from the Asiatic mainland south to New Guinea and New Zealand, and east to the Hawai'ian Islands and Easter Island. R. exulans may have been present in the Mariana Islands for at least 3500 years, introduced by the Chamorro people. There appear to be no island groups that were reached by the Polynesians that did not receive Rattus exulans. However, a number of islands within groups, particularly those uninhabited, are still free of it (Atkinson and Atkinson, 2000).
Introduction pathways to new locations
Other: Rattus exulans is thought to have been deliberately introduced to many islands by Polynesians who considered it a valuable food source (Spennemann, 1997).
Preventative measures: Research has shown that it can often be difficult to eradicate rats from islands in the early stages of invasion, hence it is better to prevent rodents arriving on islands in the first place. Eliminating a single invading rat can be disproportionately difficult because of atypical behaviour by the rat in the absence of conspecifics, and because bait can be less effective in the absence of competition for food (Russell et al. 2005). Weihong et al. (1999) provide useful information regarding the detection of rodent species using different trapping methods and bait, Dilks and Towns (2002) published by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation discusses how to detect and respond to rodent invasions on islands.
Physical: Control on mainland sites predominantly consists of snap-trapping.
Chemical: Over the last fifteen years, Pacific rats (Rattus exulans) have been eradicated from increasingly larger New Zealand offshore islands. To date, the largest eradication has been from Raoul Island (2938 ha), although confirmation of eradication from the larger Little Barrier Island (3083 ha) is due this year. Eradication of R. exulans populations on islands is achieved using chemical poisons. In New Zealand compound 1080 has not proved effective against R. exulans, but they are susceptible to anticoagulant poisons such as brodifacoum and bromadialone. Recent successful eradication campaigns have all sown Talon 20 P baits aerially by helicopter. Talon 20 P is a cereal-based (pollard) pellet of approximately 0.8 g containing the anticoagulant toxin brodifacoum at 20 ppm. Currently this is applied at 15kg/ha at a cost of ~$75US/ha (Atkinson and Towns 2001).
Fisher et al. (2004) suggest that diphacinone especially, and also coumatetralyl and warfarin, should be evaluated in field studies as alternative rodenticides in New Zealand. Brodifacoum, the most widely used rodenticide in New Zealand currently, can acquire persistent residues in non-target wildlife. Mineau et al. (2004) presented a risk assessment of second generation rodenticides at the 2nd National Invasive Rodent Summit. O'Connor and Eason (2000) discusses the variety of baits which are available for use on offshore islands in New Zealand.
Biological: Monitor lizards and mongooses were introduced to Pacific islands in early attempts to control R. exulans.
Contraceptive methods of control are currently experimental, but the potential for effective control using contraceptive methods is promising. National Wildlife Research Center (USA) scientists are working on several possible formulations that may make effective oral immunisation possible (Nash and Miller, 2004).
Guidelines for the Eradication of Rats From Islands Within the Falklands Group offers guidelines for the eradication of rats from islands, based on the experiences in eradicating rats from the Falklands group.
The Pacific rat eats a wide range of foods including earthworms, centipedes, larvae of some butterflies and moths, ants, beetles, weevils, cicadas, snails, spiders, lizards and birds. They also eat fleshy fruit and other seeds, flowers, stems, leaves, roots and other plant parts.
Campbell et al. (1984) found that Pacific rats feed on: invertebrates (eg. ants, wetas, moths - eggs, larvae and pupae but especially large insects over 12mm in length), amphipods, and chicks, and plant material such as seeds, leaves, shoots, bark, flowers and roots. They will strip bark and eat plant stems, particularly in winter. Pacific rats may not consume all edible parts of fruits in one sitting. They eat a wide range of plant and animal items of varying sizes and stages of development, living in habitats ranging from treetops to underground. A study on Lady Alice Island, New Zealand, (Newman and McFadden, 1990) found that Pacific rats eat 78% plant material together with a wide range of animal food, including weevils, scarab beetles, moth larvae, weta, seabird chicks and skinks (Atkinson and Towns, 2001). Pacific rats have been observed to carry food to “husking stations” to feed, where they are sheltered from predators, competitors and rain (Campbell et al., 1984).
Placental, sexual. Females are polyestrous and ovulate spontaneously. Breeding largely determined by food availability. Litter size normally 6 - 11, gestation is 21-24 days, young weaned at about 28 days. Females can be sexually active in the season of their birth, and can have up to six litters a year (Wittenberg, R. (ed.) 2005). In New Zealand, the Norway rat has been observed breeding throughout the year (Innes, 2001).
In New Zealand: Gestation 19-21 days. Weaning 2-4 weeks. Sexual maturity 8-12 months, though maturity can be achieved during the same season as birth (Atkinson and Moller 1990). In captivity: Gestation minimum 23 days. Weaning 2-3 weeks. Sexual maturity 60-70 days (Tobin 1994). Total life is estimated between 12 - 15 months. Pacific rats have been observed to mature earlier and survive better, with some adults surviving to a second breeding season, where high quality food and year-round shelter were available (Atkinson and Towns, 2001). Strong seasonal fluctuations occur in the density of kiore populations on New Zealand’s northern offshore islands. Breeding is restricted to spring and summer, so densities reach a peak in autumn, then decline to low levels in spring (Campbell et al., 1984).
Compiled by: IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group
Updates with support from the Overseas Territories Environmental Programme (OTEP) project XOT603, a joint project with the Cayman Islands Government - Department of Environment
Last Modified: Monday, 4 October 2010