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Sanibel’s Namesake Rice Rat Did Survive Ian

June 16, 2023
Rice Rat 50

SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Manager Chris Lechowicz was optimistic that Sanibel’s namesake rice rat had survived the hurricane, but only recently received verification. The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge has confirmed that their floating camera traps captured a photo of a young rice rat in mid-January.
“This is very important news because the rat’s size showed it was young enough to have been born after the hurricane,” he said. “The resilience of its natural grassland habitat protected the endemic species from the storm surge as it likely has many times before in Sanibel’s approximate 6,000-year history.”
Hurricane Ian had devasting effects on many parts of the island. However, a very important and disappearing habitat in several areas that is essential to the survival of Sanibel’s only endemic wildlife species, the Sanibel Island rice rat (Oryzomys palustris sanibeli) experienced minor scarring due to its natural place on the island.
Cordgrass or Spartina marshes once sprawled throughout the island in low areas. This fire-dependent and salt-water tolerant grass provides habitat for a slew of native species including the state-protected Sanibel Island rice rat.

Setting Camera Traps

After the hurricane, biologists on the island began inventorying species that could be documented as surviving the storm. The Refuge started monitoring with floating camera traps in January to document the continued presence of rice rats on the island.
“These cameras can take excessive quantities of pictures that often take long periods of time to examine,” said Lechowicz. “Due to time constraints, many of those photographs from earlier trapping days were not looked at until recently.”
SCCF biologists began collaborating with the Refuge in March to double the effort to verify our island’s namesake as present. Photo from SCCF and Refuge traps from March to current did not show rice rats. However, there were plenty of native cotton rats (Sigmodon hispidus) and exotic black rats (Rattus rattus) caught on these cameras.

Floating Camera Captures Image

“Recently, refuge staff was able to go through many of the pictures from January to early March and excitably has been able to verify that Sanibel Island rice rats still exist,” he said.
The first picture was taken on Jan. 13, 2023. Another was taken later in January.
The hardest natural areas hit by the storm were those that are not well adapted for these catastrophic, but natural events such as the shrubby, hardwood forests that have infiltrated the wetlands and transitional wetlands.

Sanibel Rice Rat photographed by floating camera trap on Jan. 13, 2023. CREDIT: J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Floating camera trap


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