Many urban Australians are not aware that there is a native rat in our waterways! These shy creatures will move quickly away when threatened and if seen may be mistaken for a Platypus.
Water Rats are not classified as a threatened species. Although the species is not considered to be vulnerable, they suffer during natural disasters, as humans and other animals do, and are at risk from domestic dogs and cats and feral animals.
Meeting the Water Rats at Healesville Sanctuary is an important way to connect with the animals of Australia, and to learn about the Sanctuary’s conservation programs, especially those aimed at conserving threatened native species. The money you spend helps to support the Sanctuary’s conservation programs and its care of native wildlife, as well as fight species extinction.
Water Rats are found mainly throughout eastern Australia. They live near freshwater creeks, lakes, dams and irrigation channels.
They mainly eat fish, crustaceans and insects but also small birds, mammals, frogs and reptiles. They source their food from the shallows, but may also dive in search of food. They are said to be one of the few animals that know how to safely eat cane toads, which have poisonous glands that are deadly to most would-be predators.
The fur on their backs and sides is grey to black but their bellies are golden or even cream-coloured. They have webbed back feet and many whiskers on their face, so they resemble otters in some ways.
An adult may grow to 40cm long (excluding the tail) and weigh 1kg.
They live in burrows dug in the bank of the creek or channel. Their lifespan in the wild is short, only two or three years.
A Water Rat may have three to four young in a litter. The female will suckle the young for four weeks and she will stay with them for another month or so to teach them some life skills.