Allegheny Woodrat

Neotoma magister
Chuck Fergus


In Pennsylvania, the Allegheny woodrat is listed as threatened and protected under the Game and Wildlife Code. 


The Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister) was once considered a common resident of Pennsylvania’s mountains. The species, first described from a specimen taken in a cave near Carlisle in 1858, has disappeared from the southeastern portion of the state and has declined in much of the rest of the state. The reason for the decline is not well-understood and likely results of a combination of factors. At present, sustainable populations remain in Pennsylvania’s southwestern, south-central and north-central counties, with a few remnant populations in eastern counties. Our state has an important position in the biology of this species, holding both the diminishing northeastern range margin and a core of still-healthy populations. At one time, its range extended from southwestern Connecticut west to Indiana and south to northern Alabama. The Allegheny woodrat is now extirpated from Connecticut and New York, studies in remaining northern states document decline, and its status in southern states is un- known because of a shortage of recent surveys.

Identifying Characteristics

The Allegheny woodrat is a relative of the better-known packrats of the West. Although this animal is referred to as a "rat" it is more mouse-like in appearance and has a bicolor, furred tail – unlike the naked tail of the Norway rat. It also is distinguished by noticeably larger ears and eyes, a larger, heavier head, and much longer whiskers. It is gray above with white underparts and paws. The average adult weighs less than a pound and is about 17 inches in total length, including an eight-inch tail.

Biology-Natural History

Allegheny woodrats are largely solitary, tolerating each other’s presence briefly during the breeding season. Individual woodrats build a nest of plant material within a rock outcrop and may surround the nest with dry leaves and twigs, possibly as an alarm system. They emerge at dusk to forage for food, which includes a variety of leaves, fruit, nuts, seeds, fungi and twigs. Radio-telemetry studies indicate that woodrats may change den locations during summer, but after mid-autumn they retain one den for winter. Woodrats do not hibernate. Beginning in mid-summer, they store food for winter by stuffing leaves and other materials into rock crevices and protected ledges. They also collect non-food items such as wasp nests, bones, molted snakeskins, candy wrappers, and shotgun shells. Another distinctive behavior is their tendency to establish latrines for defecation, usually a flat rock surface protected by an overhang, separate from their living quarters. Reproductive success is difficult to measure because the Allegheny woodrat places its nests deep within rock outcrops. The most common litter size is probably two or three young. Some females may have two litters per year. This supposition is supported by captures of juvenile woodrats during each month from May to October in West Virginia. Variability in the length of the reproductive season may be influenced by variability in mast crops, severity of winter, and availability of secure cover. Predators of the Allegheny woodrat include the great horned owl, raccoon, coyote, weasel, fisher and black rat snake.



Pennsylvania Game Commission
Bureau of Wildlife Management
Attn: Mammal Atlas Coordinator
2001 Elmerton Avenue
Harrisburg, PA 17110
Pennsylvania Game Commission
Bureau of Wildlife Management