Greater Stick-nest-Rat

Greater stick-nest rats build shelters larger than wedge-tailed eagle nests. We protect their largest population on mainland Australia.

What is Arid Recovery doing?

In 1998 we trialled a release of eight greater stick-nest rats into Arid Recovery. The trial was successful, so we sourced 100 from Reevesby Island in the Spencer Gulf. Since then, the population has remained secure and there are now an estimated 70 nests hosting 250 rats at the Arid Recovery Reserve. Read here for details on some of the fascinating nests we have found.

The reintroduction has contributed to the greater stick-nest rat’s status changing from endangered to vulnerable. Stick-nest rats remain dependent on feral cat and fox-free islands and fenced reserves like Arid Recovery. Without these refuges, the species would disappear.

The Elusive Stickies

Since their reintroduction in 1999, the greater stick-nest rat has remained elusive. They are hard to trap due to the abundant burrowing bettongs who disturb any traps that are set. We have had to come up with unique methods to out-trick burrowing bettongs, such as ‘ratstaurants’. They look like a top hat made of 50mm chicken wire mesh and pegged into the ground with droppers. Stick-nest rats can squeeze through the mesh, but the bettongs can’t dig under.

Range and abundance

The greater stick-nest rat was once found across much of the semi-arid and southern arid zone of Australia. By the 1930s, it was confined to only two islands off the South Australian coast – East and West Franklin Islands. It was reintroduced to the Arid Recovery reserve in 1999. The population at Arid Recovery is currently the only stable population of greater stick-nest rats on the mainland.

Shelter

Nests are generally built around a bush, with sticks woven together. Large branches are gnawed to size and added to the nest. Nests can be up to one metre high and two metres wide. Nests provide protection from native predators such as eagles and dingoes.

Greater stick-nest rats may have a dominant nest, but they also occasionally move to other nests. They don’t live exclusively in their nests and will often live underground in old bilby burrows to escape the extreme heat over the summer months.

Feeding

Greater stick-nest rats are herbivores, feeding mainly on the leaves, fruit and plant seeds. Since they need a lot of water to survive extreme temperatures, they eat plants with high water content, such as the bladder saltbush. As these plants are also favoured by other herbivores like rabbits and burrowing bettongs, they can be threatened by overgrazing.

Breeding

Breeding can occur in any month of the year. At Arid Recovery, however, this usually happens only in the cooler months. Gestation is 30-40 days and 1-3 young are usually born.

Threats

Stick-nest rats are particularly vulnerable to predation by feral cats and foxes. As early as 1900, they became very rare and were soon extinct on the mainland. A small population survived on the Franklin Islands off the South Australian coast.