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Eating Poison Oak?

According to a variety of sources, Dusky-footed Woodrats enjoy a diet primarily of native greens such as live oak, blackberry, coffeeberry and poison oak leaves, along with augmentations of seeds and berries. If Eek is a Dusky-footed Woodrat, it should follow that she would therefore enjoy a few live oak, blackberry or other leaves. This could possibly serve as another way to confirm (or deny) her new identification as a native Woodrat.

Before continuing any further, it must be noted that I personally cannot imagine any creature wanting to consume stiff, pointy, thick, fibrous live oak leaves, or even worse, a spiny blackberry leaf or some poison oak, let alone preferring to consist on such a diet. On the other hand, when presented with a whole strawberry with the top leaves intact, Eek appears to enjoy the leaves the most and will always eat them first. So maybe there is something interesting here...

We happen to live next to some undeveloped land - no doubt the original source of the Eek - which is covered with Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia). Sprigs of live oak, along with leaves from several other nearby native plants were selected for Eek. Again, the experience of hand picking these leaves and feeling their thick waxiness, underscored my perception of their utter unsuitability for any animal's diet, unless perhaps, if they were starving.

Eek in the handEek was presented with a variety of options, from a fresh strawberry (with leaves), a kale leaf (another proven favorite), fresh clover picked from the yard (also another favorite), sprigs of live oak, and another unidentified local plant with delicate looking leaves. She very assertively wanted the live oak leaves and clearly and consistently preferred them over any other offering. Eek is and has always been very clear about what she wants. Her second choice was the yet unidentified local plant. Blackberry leaves, presented subsequently, were also apparently quite enjoyable to the little rodent.

Scribble, the Norwegian rat, was also given an opportunity to munch on this array of offerings, as our experimental "control group" of one. While she might nibble on some clover and a bit of kale, she did not demonstrate interest in the other leaves, other than to use them as playthings.

The next test was dandelions, just because there was a nearby dandelion in the yard. Presenting the dandelion flower to Eek, it is now apparent such a flower is akin to Woodrat "candy". Dandelion leaves again outranked the kale and strawberry on the Woodrat scale of favorite foods.

All of this seems further supporting evidence for Eek's new identification as a Dusky-footed Woodrat. And therefore, Eek would probably also very much enjoy snacking on some "tasty" poison oak leaves too. However, even if poison oak leaves are akin to Woodrat caviar, though I do very much love the little Eek, I am so allergic to poison oak that, sadly, it is unlikely that there will be many yummy poison oak leaves in her future.

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Blog_post | by Dr. Radut