Things to Know About the Greater Cane Rat

The Greater Cane Rat, also known as Thryonomys swinderianus, is a member of the cane rats family or Thryonomys genus, a small family of rodent which is restricted in Africa. The Greater Cane Rat is a common rodent that can be found throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. This species is closely related to porcupines than veld rats.

This cane rat species was first described by Dutch aristocrat, zoologist, and museum director Coenraad Jacob Temminck.

Like other cane rats, the Greater Cane Rat is eaten in some western and central African countries, which is also deemed a valued source of “bush meat.” Its meat contains a rich source of protein and lower fat content. Local people appreciate the Greater Cane Rat meat for its delicious taste and tenderness.

On the other hand, local farmers expend substantial efforts to eliminate Greater Cane Rats out of their agricultural lands because they feed on crops. But despite this, the Greater Rat Cane population remains widely distributed across western, central, and southern Africa. Therefore, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List categorized the species as Least Concern.

Its seven levels of scientific classification are as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Rodentia

Family: Thryonomyidae

Genus: Thryonomys

Species: T. swinderianus

The physical characteristics of the Greater Cane Rat

The body length of the Greater Cane Rat ranges from 350 to 610 mm. The tail length reaches 65 to 260 mm. A male Greater Cane Rat usually weighs around 4.5 kg, whereas a female Greater Cane Rat weighs 3.5 kg.

An adult Greater Cane Rat has a rounded nose, short ears, and incisors that grow nonstop. Its pelage is coarse, flat bristle-like hairs. Its upper parts are yellowish-brown, while the underside is lighter grey in color. The under fur is absent, and the forefeet are much smaller than the hind feet, each foot with three toes. These toes carry sharp claws.

The distribution and habitat of Greater Cane Rats

The Greater Cane Rat is indigenous in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the Gambia, southern Sudan, southern and northern Namibia, and South Africa. It is absent in the southwest portion of South Africa.

Greater Cane Rats frequent a wide range of habitats such as marshes, river banks, and cultivated crops. As humans expanded in their habitats, the Greater Cane Rats also expanded their habitat into the plantations, particularly sugar cane plantations, hence their common name.

The behavior of a Greater Cane Rat

Greater Cane Rats are commonly found in a group composed of a dominant male, several females, and young from more than a generation. Greater Cane Rats are highly nocturnal rodents, creating trails through reeds and grass that lead to feeding and water sources, as well as shelters. Using their sharp, strong claws, they pound on tall grass so that they could make nests and shallow burrows for shelter.

Greater Cane Rats are also excellent divers and swimmers, which serves them great whenever there is a predator in sight. When afraid or intimidated, they stop their hind feet, grunt, and dive towards the water.

Male Greater Cane Rats engage in fights through a nose-to-nose pushing duel. They do not fight with females or the young. The breeding season varies on the locale and weather of their habitat. During the breeding season, males separate themselves from the groups and live by themselves. The breeding season usually takes place during the wet season. Female Greater Cane Rats give birth to 4 offsprings. The estrous cycle lasts an average of 7 days and a gestation period of 137-172 days. Greater Cane Rats achieve sexual maturity at six months of age. The Greater Cane Rats are not prolific rodent species, but there is a high demand for their meat in the market. There is also present exploitation among Greater Cane Rats in the wild, but this has not seriously affected their population.

The diet of a Greater Cane Rat

Greater Cane Rats forage through cutting grass using their upper incisors. They mainly feed on grasses and canes. They also feed on barks, fallen fruits, nuts, and various cultivated crops, including maize, millet, roundnuts, sweet potatoes, cassava, and pumpkins. According to scientific research, their favorite food is elephant grass, sweet potatoes, and plants filled with moisture and soluble carbohydrates.