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Temporal range: Late Cenozoic - Recent
Say & Ord, 1825
A pack rat or packrat, also called a woodrat, can be any of the species in the rodent genus Neotoma. Packrats have a rat-like appearance with long tails, large ears and large black eyes. Compared to deer mice, harvest mice and grasshopper mice, packrats are noticeably larger and are usually somewhat larger than cotton rats.
- Subgenus (Neotoma)
- Neotoma albigula - White-throated Woodrat
- Neotoma albigula varia - Turner Island Woodrat
- Neotoma angustapalata - Tamaulipan Woodrat
- Neotoma anthonyi - Anthony's Woodrat †
- Neotoma bryanti - Bryant's Woodrat
- Neotoma bunkeri - Bunker's Woodrat †
- Neotoma chrysomelas - Nicaraguan Woodrat
- Neotoma devia - Arizona Woodrat
- Neotoma floridana - Florida Woodrat (Eastern Woodrat)
- Neotoma floridana smalli - Key Largo Woodrat
- Neotoma goldmani - Goldman's Woodrat
- Neotoma lepida - Desert Woodrat
- Neotoma leucodon - White-toothed Woodrat
- Neotoma macrotis - Big-eared Woodrat
- Neotoma magister - Allegheny Woodrat
- Neotoma martinensis - San Martin Island Woodrat †
- Neotoma mexicana - Mexican Woodrat
- Neotoma micropus - Southern Plains Woodrat
- Neotoma nelsoni - Nelson's Woodrat
- Neotoma palatina - Bolaos Woodrat
- Neotoma stephensi - Stephens's Woodrat
- Neotoma albigula - White-throated Woodrat
- Subgenus (Teanopus)
- Neotoma phenax - Sonoran Woodrat
- Subgenus (Teonoma)
Range and distribution 
Woodrats reach their greatest diversity in the deserts of the western United States and northern Mexico. Several species are also found in the deciduous forest of the east coast, juniper woodlands in the southwest, oak woodlands along the coastal western United States and in the Sonoran Desert, and in the forest and rocky habitats of the western United States and western Canada.
Each species of packrat is generally restricted to a given type of habitat within its range. Packrats live anywhere from low, hot, dry deserts to cold, rocky slopes above timberline. Packrats build complex houses or dens made of twigs, cactus joints and other materials. These contain several nest chambers, food caches and debris piles. Dens are often built in small caves or rocky crevices, but when close by human habitations, woodrats will opportunistically move into the attics and walls of houses. Some Neotoma species, such as the White-throated Woodrat (N. albigula), use the base of a prickly pear or cholla cactus as the site for their home, utilizing the cactus' spines for protection from predators. Others, like the Desert Woodrat (N. lepida) will build dens around the base of a yucca or cactus, such as Jumping and Teddy-bear Chollas. The largest species, Neotoma cinerea, has a bushy, almost squirrel-like tail. Bushy-tailed woodrats Neotoma cinerea occupy a range of habitats from boreal woodlands to deserts. They are cliff-dwellers and are often found on isolated, high-elevation bouldery exposures under a variety of temperature and moisture regimes. They require adequate shelter inside the rocks, though they are occasionally found inhabiting abandoned buildings as well.
Packrats are nest builders. They use plant material like branches, twigs, sticks, and other available debris. Getting into everything from attics to car engines, stealing their ‘treasures’, damaging electrical wiring and creating general noisy havoc can easily cause them to become a nuisance. A peculiar characteristic is that if they find something they want, they will drop what they are currently carrying, for example a piece of cactus, and "trade" it for the new item. They are particularly fond of shiny objects. These two traits have inspired an anecdote about a man finding his dime replaced by two nickels. They can also be quite vocal and boisterous.
Bushy-tailed woodrats feed primarily on green vegetation, twigs, and shoots. Mexican packrats eat seeds, fruits, acorns, and cactus.
Adult bushy-tailed woodrat males usually weigh 300-600 grams with an average of 405 grams, and adult females usually weigh 250-350 grams with an average of 270 grams. These ranges are relatively large because this species occupies a large geographic range, and its body size is closely correlated with climate. Average males range in size from 310-470 millimeters with the average being 379 millimeters and average females range from 272 millimeters to 410 millimeters with the average being 356 millimeters.
Reproduction and life cycle 
Reproductive habits of rodents are variable in the wild and can become more so when domesticated. Most are born naked and helpless and must be cared for in nests. There are some female packrats who have been known to deliver up to 5 litters per year with each litter having as many as 5 young. The offspring may open their eyes between 10 to 12 days after being born and are usually weaned between 14 and 42 days. After around 60 days most become sexually mature.
A packrat midden is a debris pile constructed by a woodrat. A packrat midden may preserve the materials incorporated into it for up to 50,000 years. The middens may thus be analyzed to reconstruct their original environment, and comparisons between middens allow a record of vegetative and climate change to be built. Examinations and comparisons of pack rat middens have largely supplanted pollen records as a method of study in the regions where they are available.
In the absence of rock crevices or caves, the dens are often built under trees or bushes. The packrats will also use plant fragments, animal dung and small rocks in building the den. The vast majority of the materials will be from a radius of several dozen yards of the nest. Woodrats often urinate on the debris piles; sugar and other substances in the urine crystallize as it dries out, creating a material known as amberat, which under some conditions can cement the midden together. The resilience of the middens is aided by three factors. The crystallized urine dramatically slows the decay of the materials in the midden; the dry climate of the American Southwest further slows the decay; and middens that are protected from the elements under rock overhangs or in caves survive longer.
Climate change indicators 
Zoologists examine the remains of animals in middens to get a sense of the fauna in the neighborhood of the midden, while paleobotanists can reconstruct the vegetation that grew nearby. Because middens are abandoned after a short period of time, they are uncontaminated "time capsules" of several decades of natural life, centuries and millennia after they occurred. The analysis of middens was key in understanding the fauna around Pueblo Bonito, and thus helping to explain its history.
According to Bergmann’s rule, the body size of vertebrates is closely related to the average ambient air temperature in the region in which the vertebrate lives. According to the rule, organisms in warmer regions are typically smaller than members of the same species in colder regions. This is because, all other things being equal, large body size allows for the conservation of heat, while small body size allows for the dissipation of heat. Therefore it is believed that the body sizes of organisms, woodrats in particular, are good indicators of past climate shifts.
Woodrat middens are composed of many things, including plants macrofossils and fecal pellets. The size of the pellet is proportional to the size of the woodrat. By measuring the pellets, the approximate size of the woodrat is determined based on data from a study of field-trapped woodrats. From Bergmann’s rule, differences in climate then can be determined. A study by Smith, Betancourt, and Brown, published in 1995, involved extensive research on this topic.
- San Diego Natural History Museum - Field Guide[dead link]
- "Packrat Distribution" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-01-07.
- "Desert Woodrats & Pack Rats". DesertUSA. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
- Trapani, Josh (2002-09-04). "ADW: Neotoma cinerea: INFORMATION". Animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
- "Packrat Midden Research in the Grand Canyon". Cpluhna.nau.edu. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
Further reading 
- Betancourt, Julio L., Thomas R. Van Devender, and Paul S. Martin, eds. Packrat Middens: The Last 40,000 Years of Biotic Change, University of Arizona Press, 1990, ISBN 0-8165-1115-2.
- Duff, A. and A. Lawson. 2004. Mammals of the World A Checklist. New Haven, Yale University Press.
- Kays, R. W., and D. E. Wilson. 2002. Mammals of North America. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 240 pp.
- Musser, G. G. and M. D. Carleton. 2005. Superfamily Muroidea. pp. 894–1531 in Mammal Species of the World a Taxonomic and Geographic Reference D. E. Wilson and D. M. Reeder eds. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
- Ord, G., 1815. Zoology of North America, in Guthrie's Geography, 2nd American edition, pp. 291–361. [reprint Rhoads, S.N. Philadelphia, 1894], p. 292.
- Smith, F.A., Betancourt, J.L., and Brown, J.H. 1995. Evolution of body size in the woodrat over the past 25,000 years of climate change. Science, 270: 2012-2014.
- Ulev, Elena 2007. Neotoma cinerea. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [2011, February 25].
- Zakrzewski, J. Richard. Fossil Ondatrini from Western North America. Journal of Mammalogy. Vol. 55, No. 2 (May, 1974), pp. 284–292
- "Desert Woodrats" at DesertUSA.com
- "Packrat Piles: Rodent rubbish provides ice age thermometer", Science News, 24 September 2005