Totally Wild - Aussie Rodents
Aussie Rodents - Totally Wild
Transcript of program
WESLEY DENING : Rats. The very word conjures up pictures of twitchy whiskered noses, long tails and filth. That's not totally unfair for the introduced rats and mice that invade our homes and farms: they really are pests. But Australia also has about 65 species of native rodents; nothing compared to the world's 2000 rodent species, but that figure includes guinea pigs, squirrels and beavers. More than half the mammals on Earth are rodents.
STEVE VAN DYCK: Most people are unaware of Australian native rodents because they're nocturnal for a start, and they don't live around our homes and gardens like the introduced rats and mice do.
WESLEY DENING : Dr Steve Van Dyck is Curator of Mammals at the Queensland Museum. One of his ongoing research subjects just happens to be a native rodent. Steve, what's your research all about?
STEVE VAN DYCK: Well. We've been studying a population of native animals called False Water Rats (Water Mouse) that live in mangroves and we're watching the effects that urban development may have on them.
WESLEY DENING : So, what's special about these False Water Rats?
STEVE VAN DYCK: Well, they're natives for a start, so that makes them very special and very precious; but the other thing is instead of eating vegetation, nuts and so on, they're carnivorous and they only eat shellfish and small crabs.
WESLEY DENING : Have our rodents generally decreased like many other native animals?
STEVE VAN DYCK: Well unfortunately, the answer is 'yes' to that. We have got a very bad record when it comes to native rodents and already eight of them have become extinct. Many rodents we don't even see but there are other rodents, other native rodents, who when times are good their numbers simply go through the roof and there might be millions out there at the one time, and as conditions get worse their numbers just drop off: in a natural cycle.
WESLEY DENING : The problems faced by native rats and mice are the same as those for almost every other disappearing animal. They're losing land as we humans are claiming more space for our needs. Introduced predators like cats and foxes make life very difficult for these smaller mammals. This is an introduced black rat which is famous for spreading serious disease. Do any of our native rats have that potential?
STEVE VAN DYCK: Well to be honest, any animal has the capacity to spread disease if they're living in plague proportions inside your house with you. The simple truth is these days we don't have animals living with us like that. Native rats don't live in our houses or in our gardens in most cases and the risk from disease is negligible.
WESLEY DENING : Rodents are placental mammals; they don't have the pouch of our native marsupials. The babies of placental mammals develop inside the mother's body until they are fully formed. Are native rodents fast breeders?
STEVE VAN DYCK: Generally no. No. An introduced house mouse might have 12 young at a time and 12 litters a year, that's compared to a little native mouse like this that only has four young at a time and probably no more than one or two litters a year.
WESLEY DENING : OK, so why is it so important to save these native rodents?
STEVE VAN DYCK: Well, it's just as important to save a native rodent like this, as it is to save a koala or a humpback whale. Who's to say that one has a greater right to life than the other? Now, we don't know every role that a native rodent plays in the ecosystem, but we do know that the richness of life is something that has to be preserved and it's something that gives us hope for the future. And it's our responsibility to preserve that biodiversity for the sake of our children for years to come.
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