Rodents make up a large part of the animal kingdom. In fact, around 40% of all mammals are rodents. While many types of rodents share common features, they’re a quite diverse group of animals that can live in burrows, trees, or along the water!
Currently, there are around 1,500 living rodent species that can be found in captivity and in the wild. From common creatures like the mouse to unusual animals like the capybara, these are some examples of rodents in the world today!
What Defines a Rodent?
Rodents are mammals with incisor teeth that constantly grow. While rodents vary in size, most rodents are fairly small and have short limbs. It’s also common for rodents to have long tails.
Scientists have traced rodent fossils all the way back to the Paleocene era, which was around 66 to 56 million years ago! Today, you can find rodents across the world, where they live in all sorts of habitats. It’s estimated that there are more than 1,500 living rodent species.
21 Examples of Rodents
1. Tree Squirrels
Scientific name: Sciurus
These rodents are known for their large, bushy tails. They primarily live in trees, which gives them easy access to their preferred food, tree nuts! Squirrels are highly adaptive and can thrive in many habitats.
In North America, some of the most common varieties of tree squirrel include the fox squirrel and the eastern gray squirrel. Squirrels spend most of their time gathering food, which they bury to eat later. Since squirrels don’t always eat the nuts they bury, they help to plant trees throughout their environments.
2. House mice
Scientific name: Mus musculus
Despite its name, the house mouse lives in the wild, though it prefers habitats that are near humans. It can be found all over North America and is known to infest homes. These mice have small, round ears, long tails, and pointed snouts.
House mice mature quickly and usually start breeding when they’re between six and eight weeks old! Although these mice can reproduce quickly, they tend to have a short life span. Typically, they live anywhere from 12 to 18 months.
Scientific name: Rattus
There are several creatures are commonly referred to as rats, but the typical rat is a part of the rattus genus. One of the most common rat species, the black rat, is native to India but can now be found worldwide! Another species, the brown rat, is the dominant rat in most of North America and Europe.
Rats are similar in appearance to mice, but they’re typically larger. Size can vary based on species, but rats usually don’t grow to weigh more than 1.1 pounds. However, domesticated rats can be bigger than your average rat.
Scientific name: Hystricidae or Erethizontidae
There are two disctinct rodent families families are known as porcupines. Old World porcupines, or hystricidae, can be found in Asia, Africa, and Europe. New World Porcupines, or erethizontidae, live in North and South America.
All porcupines are covered in sharp quills, which they can use to scare off predators. When a porcupine loses its quills, it’s able to grow them back. Most porcupines are herbivores and feed on twigs, leaves, and other plants.
Scientific name: Tamias
The chipmunk is a small rodent, typically measuring between 2 and 6 inches long with a 3-inch tail. It’s easy to recognize chipmunks thanks to the long stripes they have along their backs. These rodents are heavy sleepers and can sleep up to 15 hours per day!
Chipmunks like to build complex burrow systems. The average chipmunk will stay close to its burrow at all times so that it can quickly retreat from predators. These rodents are omnivores and enjoy all kinds of foods, like nuts, seeds, and small insects.
6. Pocket gophers
Scientific name: Geomyidae
Usually referred to as gophers, pocket gophers use their sharp claws to dig vast systems of tunnels. Since gophers primarily live underground, they prefer habitats with moist soil and lots of vegetation. They have large cheek pouches that they use to store dirt!
Gophers are big eaters and typically consume around 60% of their weight in food each day. The average gopher weighs around 0.5 pounds and measures anywhere from 5 to 14 inches long. Gophers are herbivores and feed on roots, plants, and grasses.
Scientific name: Castor
The beaver is a semiaquatic rodent, which means it splits its time between land and water! Beavers use rocks, muds, and tree branches to build dams along the water. They’re usually found near lakes, ponds, and rivers.
One of the beaver’s most noticeable features is its tail, which is long and flat. While a beaver’s rear feet are webbed, their paws have fingers, which helps them grasp objects. Beavers are mostly nocturnal and usually hide in their shelters during the day.
Scientific name: Cricetinae
These small rodents have short tails, which makes them stand out from other rodent species. In North America, hamsters are domesticated and kept as pets. However, hamsters can be spotted in the wild throughout Europe and Asia.
Most hamsters are crepuscular, which means they’re most active at dawn and dusk. In the wild, hamsters tend to stay underground when it’s light out so that they can hide from predators. They like to store food in pouches inside their cheeks!
Scientific name: Marmota
The marmot is a ground squirrel and the largest member of the squirrel family! An adult marmot can be anywhere from 17 to 32 inches long, including its tail. They have short legs and long claws, which they use to dig holes underground!
In North America, the most commonly seen species is the hoary marmot, which is typically found in mountain habitats. These animals are active in spring and summer, but usually hibernate for 7 to 8 months per year. Research shows that hibernating may slow the marmot’s aging process!
Scientific name: Microtus
While people sometimes mistake voles for mice, they’re actually a close relative of hamsters! There are many vole species found across North America. The typical vole measures between 4 and 9 inches long and weighs around 2 ounces.
Voles have a short lifespan and rarely live more than 6 months in the wild. They’re typically herbivores and prefer foods like seeds, roots, and bulbs. Due to these eating habits, voles are considered to be garden pests.
11. Kangaroo rats
Scientific name: Dipodomys
The kangaroo rat is a small rodent with large hind feet, which it can use to jump as far as 9 feet. This animal is typically found in the western United States and lives in desert habitats.
Kangaroo rats are able to survive on very little water and can get all the moisture they need from the seeds they feed on. They don’t sweat, and they typically burrow underground to stay cool during the day.
12. Deer mice
Scientific name: Peromyscus
While deer mice closely resemble house mice, these rodents are actually distant relations. They tend to have very large eyes, and many species have two-toned fur! Deer mice are very common in the U.S., especially the eastern deer mouse and the white-footed mouse.
Another thing that separates deer mice from house mice is their lifespan. Deer mice can live for 5 to 7 years. In the wild, these mice are skilled climbers and swimmers and frequently search for food in shallow water.
13. Guinea pigs
Scientific name: Cavia porcellus
The guinea pig is native to the Andes Mountains in South America, but it’s been introduced to countries all over the world. In North America and Europe, this animal is a popular pet thanks to its size and docile personality.
Guinea pigs are larger than most rodents, measuring around 8 to 10 inches long and weighing anywhere from 1.5 to 2.6 pounds. While nearly all guinea pigs have thick fur, one species, the skinny pig, is completely hairless!
14. Prairie dogs
Scientific name: Cynomys
These ground squirrels primarily live in western North America and are usually found in grassland habitats. Prairie dogs are known for digging burrows underground. When prairie dogs dig holes, they leave behind mounds of dirt, which are used by many other animals.
While prairie dogs are mostly herbivores, they occasionally eat insects. They’re extremely social animals that like to live in large colonies. A prairie dog colony will usually contain around 15 to 26 rodents!
Scientific name: Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
The capybara is a cavy rodent and a close relative of the guinea pig. It’s the largest living rodent and can grow to be 3.48 to 4.40 feet long. Capybaras have reddish-brown fur, pig-like bodies, and no visible tails.
These rodents are semi-aquatic mammals and prefer to live along lakes and rivers. They can be found throughout South America, but are not present in Chile. The capybara is very docile and is known for being friendly to other animals.
Scientific name: Marmota monax
Sometimes known as woodchucks, groundhogs are a type of marmot that prefers to live in woodlands or plains habitats. They’re primarily herbivores and like to feed on wild grass and berries. A single groundhog can eat more than a pound of food in just one day.
Groundhogs usually measure around 17.75 to 24 inches long. During the summer and fall seasons, they spend most of their time eating foods like plants and grubs. They hibernate during the winter and become active again in spring!
Scientific name: Ondatra zibethicus
The muskrat is a semiaquatic rodent that usually measures around 16 to 25 inches long, plus a tail measuring between 7 and 11 inches. While it’s native to North America, it’s also been introduced to other parts of the world, like Europe and Asia.
Most muskrats live in damp environments, such as marshes or swamps. To keep cool in hot weather, they dig burrows underground. Muskrats are known for their strong scents, which they use to mark their territory.
Scientific name: Chinchilla lanigera
These rodents are known for their long tails and dense fur. Many rodents have short lifespans, but a chinchilla can live up to 10 years in the wild and 20 years in captivity. While chinchillas are native to the Andes Mountains in South America, they’re kept as pets worldwide.
Chinchillas are temperature sensitive and try to avoid getting wet. They clean themselves by taking baths in dirt or dust. The chinchilla prefers rocky habitats and usually lives in burrows or crevices.
Scientific name: Gerbillinae
While gerbils were once known as desert rats, they’re actually a distinct type of animal. In fact, there are more than 100 gerbil species! Gerbils vary in size, but they tend to be small rodents with long tails.
When a gerbil needs to escape a predator, it can shed its tail for a quick escape! Unfortunately, once lost, these tails don’t grow back. Gerbils are social animals and usually live together in large systems of tunnels.
Scientific name: Myocastor coypus
Sometimes called copyu, nutria are large, semiaquatic rodents with webbed feet. While these rodents are native to South America, they’ve been introduced to many other regions, including North America, Europe, and Asia. Nutrias are big eaters and can consume around 1/4 of its bodyweight in food each day!
Typically, nutria live in burrows or nests along marshes or swamps. They’re excellent swimmers and can stay underwater for more than 5 minutes! One of the nutria’s most unusual features is its teeth, which are coated in a bright orange enamel.
Scientific name: Dasyprocta
The agouti is a close relative of the guinea pig. At first glance, it may look similar to a tree squirrel, but it has a hairless tail! It has coarse hair that’s covered in a protective oily substance.
Agouti have very hard teeth and can crack open all kinds of nuts, including Brazil nuts! While these rodents have been introduced to other parts of the world, they’re primarily found in Middle America.