Thursday, March 10, 2011

Plague Rats and Tiapans in Bedourie in Queensland

The Long-haired Rat or Plague Rat, Rattus villosissimus, is endemic to northern Australian where its populations sometimes reach plague proportions. It is larger than most other native rodents with a body length of 12-22 cm and 50-280 g in weight. The Plague Rat is usually uncommon, living in widely scattered populations in wet areas, restricted to refugia with favorable conditions. The Inland Taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) has evolved its world renowned venom to immobilize and kill this rodent, and an explosion in the rat population will be quickly followed by increases in snakes and other orther predators. The population fluctuations are the result of increased rainfall. The following story is from the HeraldSun.com.au.

"The town of Bedourie in far western Queensland has been struck by a rat plague - and snakes looking for a feed are following them into town.

Queensland government agent in the town of 150, Rachel Farran, said the local rat population had boomed following good weather last year.

She said hundreds of thousands of rats were in town, eating their way through doors and walls, burrowing into Eskys and chewing electrical cords.

"The rats have been a complete nightmare," Ms Farran said.

"You go downstairs to put the washing on and you hear rats screaming in the yard.

"There's a massive amount of them in our chook pen, and they also go into the shed.

"They've actually made a track that goes from the chookpen to that shed.

"There's hole in the wall at the police barracks where they've chewed through. At the clinic they've had two doors they've chewed through."

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Ms Farran said some of the rats were 25cm long, excluding the tail.

Bedourie had almost 400mm of rain from March 5 to 7 which she hoped would have drowned many rats, but it has also driven snakes into town.

Ms Farran said she saw rats in plague proportions on a drive 200km south to Birdsville on Australia Day.

"There was no way you could have counted them. They were just in groups all over the road.

"There were thousands just in spots in the road."

Ms Farran said she had spotted a deadly western taipan and a two-metre brown snake in recent days.

Bedourie is flooded in, with the road north expected to open in about two weeks, Ms Farran said.

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