Dassie rats are squirrel-like in appearance. Their tails are hairy, but not bushy whereas the soles of their feet are distinctly bare and have pads. Their heads are noticeably flattened. The overall coloration can be a range of browns, greys, or almost black. The nose is yellowish and tends to stand out. They have no underfur. The teats are located on the sides of the torso, which allows the young to feed from the side when crammed in a narrow rock crevice.
Dassie rats are restricted to rocky outcrops in Namibia, parts of Angola and northwest South Africa. They are famous for being able to squeeze into extremely narrow crevices. This is accomplished due to their flattened skulls and flexible ribs.
Dassie rats feed primarily on grassy parts, but will sometimes eat fruits, seeds, and leaves. They have high crowned and rooted cheek teeth. Females give birth to a pair of offspring just once a year; an unusually slow reproductive rate among rodents.
Dassie rats are the only remaining members of a once diverse family that first appeared in the Oligocene of Africa. Both morphological and molecular studies suggest the closest living relatives to the dassie rats are the African cane rats in the family Thryonomyidae. These two families along with related fossil families such as Phiomyidae represented an important early radiation of rodents in Africa.
So WHAT is one (or appears to be) doing in our Vance Creek area woodshed after being caught and killed by our minature Dachshunds? They’re supposed to be happily rock dwelling in southern Africa. Could this body be evidence of illegal importation of alien species by local pet smugglers? Will the Vance Creek area now be overrun by an alien animal species potentially disrupting its ecological balance if an investigation and remedial measures aren’t launched? Are they good to eat? (It was fairly large.) Do they carry diseases dangerous to residents? How did it get here? What is it? Is it, in fact, a Dassie Rat? It certainly looks like one:
UPDATE: The body was taken to the County extension agent and identified, not as an exotic alien species, but as a PACKRAT. We are well within the normal range of these animals. Maybe now we’ll locate some missing knickknacks. The creatures are part of a group known as ‘wood rats’ which are part of an even larger group known as rodents which comprise 48% of all mammalian species.
Postmortem shots of mysterious rodent eliminated from the gene pool by guardian Dachshunds: