Is Mr Rakali in your backyard?
An unusual aquatic buddy is beginning to mate and give birth to cute little babies this month. You may not even know he’s around so read on to see if you have a Water Rat buddy in your local area.
The Water Rat, also known by the Aboriginal name Rakali, is a top predator in freshwater and saltwater environments right across Australia.
You’re most likely to see a Rakali as it runs along the shore edge in a lake, river or beach. You can often see them at your favourite picnic spot by the water as they like to get in on the action when people feed the ducks.
You can tell if you have Rakalis in your backyard by their footprints. As the Rakali has webbed feet, they leave very strange and unique footprints in sandy shores and banks. Rakalis can be messy eaters and leave piles of shells and small bones in your garden or park.
The Rakali is the boss of the water and will prey on unsuspecting fishes, crustaceans, amphibians or small land animals. They have been known to sneak into backyards to grab pet food.
Rakalis are key indicators of a healthy wetland system, and if they are struggling to find enough food in the form of invertebrates and fish, chances are that there has been a change in the water quality.
Rakalis grow up to 60 cm long, from nose to the tip of tail. Being the largest rat in Australia, these guys are great to have around as they actually fight off the bad, introduced rats. You can tell them apart from introduced rats by their pale belly, mass of whiskers and the white tip on the end of their tail.
The Rakali plays a similar role in the Australian ecosystems as the otter does in the northern hemisphere. They hunt in similar ways, have similar bodies and both have water repellent fur. However unlike otters they don’t have very well insulated fur, so Rakalis have to be careful that they don’t get too cold or hot.
To cope with extreme temperatures, the Rakali becomes more active during the day in winter and spends less time in the water to keep warm in the sun. During hot summer days they will take refuge in the burrows they live in along rivers and shorelines.
As the Rakali and the Platypus are a similar size, they often share burrows—but not at the same time. The burrows are mainly used by mum Rakali when she is suckling her young or to shelter from harsh temperatures.
The Rakali is a very mysterious buddy as they haven’t been researched as much as other more well-known Aussie mammals. We do know that they are very territorial, especially the boys. It is thought that once dad has mated and mum is raising the kids, dad will patrol his territory to keep out threats such as other Rakalis and introduced rodents. Dad’s territory can be as large as 4 kms of river length and sometimes he has more than one female living in this area that he will look after.
Rakalis mate in late winter and spring in southern Australia or at any time of year in warmer regions. Mum gives birth to usually four tiny little pups in a softly lined nest at the end of her burrow. Mum Rakali will feed them with her milk for around four weeks and then help them to explore their world for another four weeks.
You’re more likely to see the Rakali than our other Aussie rodents, as Rakali are happy to come out during the day. They are also fairly common in urban areas but you may mistake them for introduced rats.
Rakalis in the southern areas of Australia have very yellow bellies. The further north they are found, the paler their stomach fur becomes. The colour of their bellies can tell you how fiercely territorial they are likely to be. The more yellow the belly, the more territorial they will be.
The best thing you can do for Rakalis is to keep your pet cats and dogs inside as much as possible, particularly at night. Rakalis are very vulnerable to attacks from our pets. You can also try to discourage these buddies from coming too close to your pets by making sure no pet food is left lying around for them to eat.
DID YOU KNOW?
Some clever Rakalis have developed the unusual ability of killing and eating the Cane Toads without being poisoned. Rakalis are either immune to Cane Toad poison, or they have figured out a way to avoid coming into contact with the poison glands.