Centennial Museum gecko logo

Desert Diary
Mammals/Trade Rat


Fair-trade issues are not limited to business matters. Even rodents like glitter. Several species of attractive, rat-sized rodents commonly called packrats or woodrats are found in the Chihuahuan Desert Region. Another name sometimes used is trade rat. This is because of their reputation for leaving treasures like rocks or sticks in place of watches or rings. While most people do not appreciate their sense of value, many insist that these are honorable creatures always leaving something in trade.

Less romantic people, however, point out that a trade rat often carries material to build its house. These large piles of debris tend to be a mixture of almost anything small enough to be dragged. In seeking construction material, a trade rat carrying a stick will eagerly discard it for a glittering ring or a bright coin. Thus there is a trade only when the rodent is forced to discard its current cargo in favor of a more desirable item.
pen and ink

Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Neotoma albigula

The White-throated Packrat, Neotoma albigula. After Bailey, 1931.



Bailey, V. 1931. Mammals of New Mexico. North American Fauna no. 53:1-412.

Wilson, D. E., and S. Ruff, editors. 1999. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 750 pp.