Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Rakali sighting at Expedition Pass Reservoir

Posted on 15 July, 2021 by Ivan

The gorgeous Rakali keeps a low profile in our community, with few sightings and some misconceptions about what is often called our ‘native otter’ or ‘Australian water-rat’. The Rakali is the largest native rodent and is a very attractive animal weighing up to 1.3 kilograms – as big as a medium-sized platypus. The Rakali’s ancestors are believed to have originally dispersed to Australia from New Guinea, where several closely related species are found today.

Connecting Country has been delighted to receive a sighting and video footage of a Rakali bathing in the glorious sunshine at our local Expedition Pass Reservoir. This is hugely impressive and important, as it validates a healthy waterway and restoration works for habitat and biodiversity. The footage was taken by local Chewton legends John Ellis and Marie Jones, who have been involved in many environmental and social projects in our region over the past decades. Marie said, “We stopped at Expedition Pass Reservoir to take a photo of a plant leaf to send to my daughter this morning and a rakali came along at the place where people tend to enter the water.  John luckily had his camera ready and this is the result. It made me feel as though we must be doing something right with the work we do – but then again perhaps it shows how versatile and adaptable these little creatures are!”

Please enjoy the footage below from John and Marie, uploaded to our Vimeo Channel. Further details about the Rakali and their distribution are also provided below, courtesy of the Australian Platypus Conservatory.

Rakali distribution

The scientific name of the Australian water-rat is Hydromys chrysogaster, which translates as “golden-bellied water mouse”. Early European settlers sometimes referred to this animal as a beaver rat, though it’s actually much more like an otter than a beaver in both its appearance and behaviour. Since the early 1990s the water-rat has also been referred to as Rakali – the name used by the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal people in the lower Murray River and Coorong region of South Australia.

Rakali occupy a wide variety of natural and man-made freshwater habitats, including swamps, ponds, lakes, rivers, creeks and irrigation channels. They also inhabit brackish estuaries and sheltered ocean beaches, and may populate ephemeral rivers and lakes in inland Australia when these fill with water after periods of unusually heavy rain. They tend to be most active in places where thick grass, low-growing shrubs, reed beds or large rocks provide plenty of cover on or near the banks. As shown below, water-rats are widely distributed on both the Australian mainland and Tasmania and also inhabit many offshore islands.

Capture map

Map courtesy of R. Strahan. (1995). The Mammals of Australia, 2nd edition. (Reed Books: Chatswood NSW)

Size and appearance

w-rat KangLake 2018 Aug (James Pettit) K1__3067 15%Adult Rakali measure up to 35 centimetres in length from their nose to rump, with a slightly shorter tail. Adult males typically weigh 0.8 kilograms (up to 1.3 kg) and adult females typically weigh 0.6 kilograms (up to 1.0 kg). Animals living in different places often vary in colour. Most commonly, the head and back will be dark brown (with golden-yellow belly fur) or a lighter shade of brown, reddish-brown or grey (with fawn- to cream-coloured belly fur). However, apart from animals born near Shark Bay in Western Australia, virtually all individuals have a distinctive white tail tip.

Rakali fur is moulted twice a year, becoming thicker in winter. Like platypus fur, it consists of fine dense underfur covered by coarser guard hairs. However, Rakali fur is much less effective than platypus fur at keeping its owner warm – Rakali cannot efficiently maintain their body temperature in water below 20°C and therefore need to exit colder water periodically in order to warm up in a burrow or other sheltered site.

Please click on the link below for further images and details about the Rakali:

Rakali/Water-rat – Australia’s “otter”

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