Monday, December 12, 2011


There are many great animal builders on our planet, but very few of them are mammals, with the notable exception of our own species. Beyond humans, beavers are certainly the best known. But pound for pound our local dusky-footed woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes) gives the beaver a run for its money. Woodrats build conical dens from sticks and twigs that can be a meter or more in height, and just as big across... not bad for a critter that is, well, rat-size.

The woodrat is alleged to be a solitary creature, which makes the relative scale of the den all the more impressive. How do they do it, and why? Solitary notwithstanding, the dens are often found in groups not far from one another, stick huts in a woodsy village. One can't help thinking there is some kind of secret nocturnal social life going on here after all.

As engineers, woodrats are opportunists, taking advantage of brush piles, fallen trees, and thickets to provide support for their structures. As a consequence, getting a clear line for a photo can be a challenge. On the other hand, there is a kind of busy, chaotic beauty to the setting of most woodrat dens. My first attempt to capture this beauty, including the following, can be found here. I expect it won't be my last.

From Woodrat project, vol. 1

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