lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info, extraordinary women, my books!

U is for Unexpected Cotton Rat

Unexpected rat for blog


The Unexpected Cotton Rat Lament


I am a cotton rat,

and like a common rat

I am yellow-toothed and fat –

my good points are neglected,

when crops are nibbled

I’m suspected,

it’s no joke

the persecution

to which we’re all subjected,

there’s not a lot that’s

unexpected about that.


I am a cotton rat,

and like a common rat,

prey to owl and fox and cat –

our rights are not respected,

we’re used for research

and infected,

it’s no joke

being captured then

injected and dissected,

there’s not a lot that’s

unexpected about that.


But unlike a common rat,

I’m a special cotton rat that

likes mountain habitat –

my trees, streams, marsh affected

by farms – and more farms

are projected,

it’s no joke

that we are rare and

maybe need to be protected,

there’s not a lot of

‘unexpected cotton rats’.


Cotton Rats live in North America, Central America and South America, and are called cotton rats because they use cotton where it is available to build their nests, damaging crops in the process. They are a pest, eating many types of food crops, and can carry disease.

One type of cotton rat is known for being experimented on for polio research.

The unexpected cotton rat only lives very high in mountains in Ecuador, 3500 to 4000 m above sea level, in a few locations.

It’s habitat is threatened by agriculture and deforestation and its population is declining – it is listed as Vulnerable.

And because it is so inacessible, not much else is known about it.

I could not find out why it is called the ‘unexpected’ cotton rat. It intrigues me so I have written to an expert, but he has not replied yet. I’ll amend this entry when I find out!


I have received a lovely email from Dr Robert M Timm, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Curator of Mammals at the University of Kansas. He says that: “Cotton rat is really a misnomer as it is only the species living in the U.S. that lives in cotton fields and it is in fact much more widely distributed and occurring far further north than does cotton. Now all species in the genus Sigmodon have cotton rat as part of their common name.”

This cotton rat’s Latin name is Sigmodon inopinatus. It will have been classed in  this genus because of physical features and behaviour it shares with other Sigmodon species.

Dr Timm went on to say: “I suspect that this southern most species of Sigmodon has the common name unexpected because it wasn’t originally believed that this genus occurred that far south.”

So there you have it! The most likely reason for the unexpected name of the unexpected cotton (although it doesn’t live in cotton) rat!

Thank you Dr Robert M Timm!


All material © Liz Brownlee

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  1. I had cotton rats in a natural resource inventory I was doing many years ago. It kept coming back into the trap, eating my bait every night. Maybe it thought it had found a new kitchen!


  2. aww poor little rat, cotton rats is that another name for those trash dwelling i will eat your face off rat or is that a different rat I am thinking of, of course rats come in your basic two kinds, the furry little crittors that run around trying to keep from getting stepped on or eaten and the dirty rats that your constantly trying to avoid getting stepped on or eaten


    • Ah, some types of this rat will eat crops, but I think they are shyer than the Norwegian rats.


  3. What an amazing name! I’d never heard of these before. Most – um – unexpected!


  4. Maybe it’s because they were discovered in an unexpected place?


  5. Jessica

    What a lovely poem! I think I will print it out and hang it on the wall next to Cotton’s habitat. She is a hispidus Cotton Rat. I’m glad there are others out there that care for them. I’m sad to hear that the Unexpected Cotton Rat is vulnerable.


    • Rats are, as you know, very intelligent! And an important part of the ecosystem. 🙂


  6. Lovely post! Very interesting 🙂


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