Rakali slip into plain sight

Photo of a water rat swimming on the surface of a pond Gliding majestically across the water’s surface, a mesmerising petite silhouette cuts a dazzling figure.  As gracefully as it first appeared, it quickly dips and submerges, hidden from view

A fleeting glance of a unique Australian creature.

A creature with partially webbed hind paws, thick lush water-repellent fur and a sleek somewhat streamlined body. With their tell-tale white tipped tail juxtaposed by a completely charming whiskered face, these beautiful native water rats resemble northern hemisphere otters.

Known by their aboriginal name, Rakali, these charming water rats are commonly mistaken for platypuses. Rakali are a highly specialised top order aquatic predator with ancestral lineage dating back millions of years.

These solitary, nocturnal animals spend their days seeking refuge in deep burrows dug into river banks, often sharing their digs with a platypus or two.

Although generally considered to be of a meek, mild mannered disposition, a battle with a counterpart can occasionally erupt. A key to predicating any hostilities lies in the colour of their tummy fur. The darker the fur, the more likely a battle could be brewing.

These charismatic carnivores generally forage close to the shoreline but, if pressed, can dive to great depths in the search of tasty morsels of crustaceans, fish and aquatic insects. They even eat the occasional bird and small mammal. Unlike a platypus, which can dine under water, Rakali retreat to a favourite sunny spot, sitting back and munching away. It’s not hard to detect these preferred spots given Rakali’s tendency to leave remains scattered as they go looking for seconds.

Anecdotally, scientists have suggested that Rakali possess innovative intelligence given their ability to pass on life’s little tips. Rakali have learnt the best way to eat mussels is to simply bring them up to the surface, place them in the sun and wait until the shells pop open.

These water rats can be a challenging critter to study in the wild, with little reliable information on population trends, often making it rather problematic to assess its local conservation status.

Given that, residents of the bush capital are being called upon to join a citizen scientist initiative to glean more insights into the secret lives of Rakali.

The Australian Platypus Conservancy, with support from the Wettenhall Environment Trust, has launched this wonderful initiative and will hold some information sessions this week. To learn how you can play a pivotal role in illuminating the role of this oft-maligned native species, visit Rakali – The Water Rat – platypus.asn.au

Photo courtesy of Con Boekel

Brett Mac

Brett McNamara - Regional Manager with ACT Parks & Conservation Service

Brett loves our national parks almost as much as the Gang-gang on his uniform. He is prone to using the word 'majestic' when referring to the bush capital. He loves talking. A lot. His favourite animal is the playful platypus.

Article also appeared on 31 July in The Chronicle