Hispid Cotton Rat

Scientific Name
Sigmodon hispidus
Also Known As
Hispid Cotton Rat
All of Florida
Green Vegetation and Insects
Life Expectancy
~1 Year
The hispid cotton rat
Hispid Cotton Rat conservation status - Least Concern

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Hispid Cotton Rats in Central Florida

The hispid cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus) is a prevalent rodent species found throughout central Florida. Often confused with Norway rats or house mice, hispid cotton rats can be identified by their characteristic size, fur coloration, and other distinguishing features.

This comprehensive guide provides detailed identification tips, biology facts, and control methods for managing hispid cotton rats in central Florida. Read on to learn about hispid cotton rat behavior, reproduction, habitat, diet, health risks, signs of infestation, and professional treatment options if you suspect an invasion on your property.

Appearance and Identification

Hispid cotton rats can be distinguished from other rodents by their distinct physical traits at different life stages

Adult Hispid Cotton Rat

Adult Florida Hispid Cotton Rat

  • Size: Adults reach 7 to 10 inches (18 to 25 cm) long including the tail and weigh 1.5 to 3.5 ounces (43 to 99 grams).

  • Tail: The tail is 3 to 5 inches long (8 to 13 cm), sparsely haired, and scaly.
  • Fur: Adults have coarse grayish-brown fur flecked with black on the upperparts. The underbelly is grayish-white.
  • Head: Blunt nose, small eyes and ears.
  • Feet: Front feet are smaller with 4 toes and claws adapted for digging. Larger hind feet have 5 toes.
Juvenile Hispid Cotton Rat

Photo 138000061 (c) Ken Wang, CC BY-NC

Juvenile Florida Hispid Cotton Rat

  • Size: Newborns average 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) long and weigh around 0.2 ounces (5 grams). They reach 5 to 7 inches (13 to 18 cm) long including the tail by 5 to 6 weeks old.
  • Fur: Juvenile fur is gray-brown in color. The fur is short but becomes coarser as they mature.
  • Features: Younger hispid cotton rats have proportionally larger heads, feet, and ears compared to adults. The rostrum is rounded.

Hispid cotton rats are distinguishable from Norway rats by their smaller size, stockier build, shorter tail and limbs, and grayish coat. They lack the agility of roof rats. Identifiable signs like burrows, runways, and feces also help detect their presence.

Maturation Rate

Hispid cotton rats develop rapidly, opening their eyes by 4 days old and emerging from the nest to eat solid food after 2 weeks. They reach adult size by 6 to 8 weeks old and sexual maturity between 6 to 8 weeks of age. Their average lifespan in the wild is under 1 year.

Habits and Behavior

Hispid cotton rats are solitary, terrestrial, and active year-round in central Florida. They are mainly nocturnal but can be seen foraging during the day. Hispid cotton rats prefer overgrown fields, abandoned lots, and forest edges with dense grass and vegetation cover.

Outdoors, hispid cotton rats dig winding shallow burrows up to 3 feet (0.9 m) long. The entrance is concealed by vegetation. They also construct globular nests approximately 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter made of dry grasses and lined with shredded fibers or fur. Hispid cotton rats are territorial and defend their range.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Hispid cotton rats in central Florida can breed year-round since seasonal changes are less distinct. Females produce up to 6 litters annually with 1 to 13 pups per litter. The gestation period is 27 to 32 days. Young are born hairless with closed eyes in the underground nest.