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#DispatchesDNLee: Do African Pouched Rats have belly pouches or cheek pouches?


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Dispatches from Tanzania (art work by @Lalsox)

Dispatches from Tanzania (art work by @Lalsox)

I’m loving “Dispatches from Tanzania!” I had no idea that some rats have pouches. I’m guessing that the pouches are a similar to those of kangaroos. Does this species of rats use their pouches for their young as kangaroos do? ~Art For Life Member

No, they don’t; but this actually is a very common misunderstanding.  The Pouches are in their mouth, not on their bellies.  When people hear of an animal with a pouch, most automatically think of belly pouches that Marsupials would have.  Kangaroos, Koalas, even the opossums (of North America) are Marsupials.  They birth very under-developed young that complete their natal development in the mother’s belly pouch.

Examples of Marsupials from Merriam-Webster

Examples of Marsupials from Merriam-Webster

Since, some people assume rats have belly pouches, they may confuse them with wombats.  Wombats and Pouched rats (that rhymes!) are ecologically similar: both live under ground, dig extensive burrows, live in very similar habitats and mostly active at nigh; but the pouched rat gets its name from its mouth or cheek patches.

African Pouched rat does not have a pouch on its belly

See, no pouches on my belly, said the African Pouched rat

Cricetomys have pouches like chipmunks: two pockets indie of their jaw, one on each side. They use them for storing food when they are out on foraging runs.  When they return to their burrows, they empty the pouches and store the food (usually grains, seeds, and nuts) for later consumption.

See those stuffed cheeks

I’ve seen my rats in the lab stuff their faces with rodent pellets and dump them in the corners where they sleep.  Here in Tanzania, I’ve captured a subject who gobbled up all of the corn from the cob (bait) and had it sitting in her pouch.  She let me do all of my measurements and handling and hardly spilled a kernel.

See those full cheeks

Interested in learning more about this adventure? Follow along on Twitter #DispatchesDNLee or submit your name address for a Postcard from Tanzania.

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. zbreeze 2:20 pm 08/13/2012

    Good to know! Indeed, we immediately think of marsupials as they are more prevalent in cultural artifacts: shows about animals with pouches, cartoons, fables, stuffed children’s toys, etc. In addition, even among mouth-pouched creatures our…perception of some animals differs from others; e.g., chipmunks (Alvin) and rats. Rats, unfair as it may be, are stigmatized, which means that they are less endearing animals and raise less curiosity, generally. All of these lend themselves to the general public knowing much less about the anatomy of the African Pouched rat.

    Thanks for sharing ‘Dispatches from Tanzania!’ I am looking forward to learning more about the pouched rat and its habits.

    Link to this
  2. 2. woodrat 6:41 am 08/14/2012

    I would have responded to this question with a visual aid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BaG_N3gEwg

    Link to this
  3. 3. DNLee 9:23 pm 08/15/2012

    Thanks, wood rat. That video is awesome. I didn’t have any video of he rats filling pouches. I still don’t,, guess I should remedy that.

    But thanks for the link.

    Link to this

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