Their wooden homes are stuck together with pee and have stood longer than the pyramids.
Once abundant across semi-arid regions of southern Australia, the Greater Stick-Nest Rat, Leporillus conditor, was pushed to the brink of extinction in the 20thCentury by competition for food from livestock and rabbits and the introduction of predatory foxes and feral cats.
Now the furry little Australian mammal with a blunt snout and large rounded ears is making a comeback.
The rats earn their Greater tag not from their size, they only grow to 26cm and weigh less than 450 grams, but from their large nests.
According to Nathan Beerkens, an expert Arid Recovery Field Ecologist and Community Co-ordinator, the nests can be up to six cubic metres in size and are built from sticks glued together with the rats’ sticky, odourless urine.
“People have gone out to carbon date them and some of the nests you can still find out in the Outback are over 10,000 years old so they are very good builders,” Beerkens said.
Up to 20 “stickies” live in a nest, which they sometimes decorate with flowers and leaves during breeding season.
“They are nocturnal and spend their days in these huge stick houses that they build. The women are the boss of these houses and they pass them down to their daughters,” Beerkens said.
“After generations and generations they [the nests] can get huge. Sometimes if there are too many [rats living in the nest] they will build their own little granny flat nearby.”
He said the recovery of the Stick-Nest Rat from the brink of extinction 30 years ago had been amazing.
The only surviving natural population of about 1000 Greater Stick-Nest Rats lives on the Franklin Islands off the far West Coast of South Australia.
But a captive breeding program and relocation to several feral free islands in South Australia and Western Australia and within fenced sanctuaries on the mainland is helping the furry little critters thrive again.