Sanibel Rat Species To Be Studied By Federal, State and Local Partners

Jul 14, 2015

Researchers don’t know much about a rat species that lives only on Sanibel Island-- the Sanibel Rice Rat. The state lists it as a threatened species, so researchers are taking a fresh look at the population. Federal, state, and local partners plan to study these rats through the next three years.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is funding the project. Other partners include the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and University of Florida researchers.

Rice Rats are found all over Florida, but the ones on Sanibel are cut off from the mainland. And biologists suspect they have a different genetic makeup because of that. 

Sanibel Rice Rats are small with brown fur. They've got little pink noses and pink feet. 

Little is known about these secretive animals, and that’s why scientists are doing this study. They’re pretty hard to capture, said Jeremy Conrad,  a biologist with the Ding Darling Refuge. The refuge is just one of the study sites. Conrad says they’re setting up traps all around the island.

Scientists lure Sanibel Rice Rats with bird seeds in a non-lethal cage that floats to fluctuate with rain water levels.
Credit Wesley Boone / Courtesy

“We can, thereby, quantify and qualify what type of habitat they're in and what are the characteristics of the habitat. And then try to reproduce that through our management actions to provide more of that habitat,” said Conrad. 

He said the Ding Darling Refuge has actually been trapping these rats for more than a decade. But they’ve limited the study only to wetlands. Conrad said this new research study is island-wide and will give a more accurate idea of their habitat.