Key Largo woodrats get prefab homes


SCA Members Make Space for Endangered Species

Hydraulics may help create new habitat for the endangered Key Largo woodrat.

A pilot project under way in the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge uses a high-pressure water hose to clear space amid tree roots and among boulders in North Key Largo’s tropical hardwood hammocks.

“We’ve installed 27 ‘nest cavities’ thus far,” said refuge manager Jeremy Dixon. That’s more than half the 50 new habitats planned in the test phase.

“A remote camera placed at one of them already [photographed] a Key Largo cotton mouse and a male Key Largo woodrat visiting,” Dixon said this week.

Key Largo woodrats have been federally listed as an endangered species for more than three decades. The protected rodents, strictly vegetarians that avoid humans, can be found only in the woods of Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park and the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Refuge staff and volunteers have built more than 750 “supplemental nest structures” as manmade woodrat habitats over the past decade. The most common design uses black culvert pipe, cut open at the bottom and covered with pieces of coral rock. Woodrats now occupy many of those nests, which the rodents adorn with an array of sticks.

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Student Conservation Association