tjphelps's picture

Rat sized small mammal

Observed: 24th April 2010 By: tjphelps

During a walk along the North Devon coastal path About ten meters in front of me and running away from me was a rat sizes mammal about 20cm long, that was a brown / ginger colour. Not sure about the length of the tail but the most distinctive thing about it was the way it moved. It moved like a rabbit or a marsupial, placing the two front feet down first then bring the back feet up together. It was smaller than a rabbit and did not have the white or fluffy tail of a rabbit. It was significantly different from the usual mammal seen in the UK to make the person with me (not a great naturalist) remark “what is that”?
Please see the google maps link below of where it was seen.,-4.510038&spn=0...


No identification made yet.

Species interactions

No interactions present.


DavidHowdon's picture

A weasel?

Sounds a bit like a weasel but I cannot be sure from the description.

Kluut's picture


Sounds like a rat. No part of the description is incompatible with it being a rat.

Not seeing any obvious white scut does not mean that it was not a rabbit, just unlikely.
Weasles are tiny and VERY thin - one old name is mouse-hunt - they can walk through a 1 inch diameter hole very easily. It could be a stoat, but that too would look very long and thin and they generally do not lope like a rabbit.
There are plenty of feral ferrets around that it could be (not sure where the polecats have expanded their range to, but I doubt they have got that far). As ferrets come in all manner of colours, it is a possibility.

the naturalist man's picture


You were most impressed with the animals gait, however, the body shape would be useful. Was it long and thin like a stoat or fat like a rat?

As you mention it being rat sized I'll assume it was more rat shaped than stoat shaped. Rats tend to scurry but from the back may appear to 'hop'. You say there was no obvious white patch on the rump, ruling out rabbit. However, how well did you see the animal because rabbits only flash the white underside of their scut (stubby tail) when frightened. When in its normal down position only a small amount of white may be showing and at a distance none my be apparent. On the subject of tails did it appear to have one? If it were a rat you should be able to see it had a tail.

The other animal it may have been is a young hare, a leveret. I saw two leverets three days ago, which would easily have fitted within your size range. Again they can appear to move like rabbits from behind. Though they tend to run rather than hop it is an undulating gait.

In summary:
Did it look thin or fat?
Was there any evidence of a tail?
Did you only see it from behind as it run away from you?

These answers could help with identification.

Graham Banwell

Visit the iSpot Yorkshire forum for information on events, issues and news relating to 'God's own country'

Kluut's picture

Never know

Unfortunately, we will never know what the animal was because we did not see it.
All animals change gait as they change speed - it is why expert trackers can tell the speed of travel from tracks, so gait is of little help.
Rats and rabbits are both out and about from quite small sizes - both of them from body (excl.tail) length of 4-5 inches or so, to full-grown. Large male rats can approach the size of an average adult wild rabbit.
Colour - rats tend to vary little, but wild rabbits come in every shade from white, through pale sandy brown, to ginger, to dark brown, to black - I have seen all colours at different spots and times within UK wild rabbits.
As for tails - in all of the very many rats that I have seen, I can't say that the tail has ever been something that sticks in my memory - on anything but bare, level ground a rat's tail is very inconspicuous, not least because it is dragged.

We are left with the balance of probability, considering the location - N Devon coastal path - and that it was "rat sized", that says that by far and away the most likely is a rabbit or rat. Next would be a mustelid, then hare. Of the mustelids, a weasel (or badger or otter come to that) could never be described as rat sized.