Praomys Natalensis - African Soft Furred Rats are quickly
becoming a favorite as feeders for small to medium sized snakes, birds of prey,
and carnivorous lizards and amphibians. Their small adult size compared to the
Norway rat makes them ideal to keep, because they are often the perfect feeding
size for months and will not outgrow the feeding limits for most carnivores
like a Norway rat will.
They thrive in polygamous colonies, most often consisting of
one male and three to five females. If you want to start breeding African Soft
Furred rats, make sure these animals are not illegal to own in your state.
They are a serious pest in most of sub-Sahara Africa and it
is economically the most detrimental rodent pest to crops and farming. Many
states in the US found it appropriate to ban the ownership of these rats based
on this and other facts associated with Praomys Natalensis. This is most common
in southern and western states of the US.
Scientific Name: Praomys Natalensis, (Mastomys is an
Common Name: African Soft Furs, Natal Rats, Multimammate
Rat, (Mice is an outdated term)
Average Lifespan: 2-3 years in captivity
Adult Weight: Males: 100- 130g; Females: 90-115g
Litter Size: 3-17;
average is 9-12 per litter. Will decrease with age.
Sexual Maturity: 54-63 days
Gestation: 21-23 days
First Litter: Approx 3.5 months of age. Will be bred again
within hours of giving birth.
Menopause: Approx 12-15 mo. of age.
Note: African soft furs cannot reproduce with a rat or
It is easiest to form a new breeding group when the animals
are young, or when the females haven't yet had litters. Once a group is formed
and bred, you cannot introduce any new animals without it being immediately
attacked and possibly killed by the original members.
Two unrelated males can fight to the death if left together
in a group with a small number of females. Father and son, or fraternal
relationships seem to not have the same intolerance.
Very few people have successfully fostered mice and other
ASF's to a group of nursing females. Be prepared for the loss of any fostered
ASF's should be given plenty of room to breed. For a group
of 1.3, the smallest amount of space I personally give is approx. the same
floor space as a ten gallon tank. The
hopper and water bottle is low enough to the ground to allow young pups to
reach, but they do not have easy access to chew any of the top of the
enclosure. It is also possible to house ASF's in a rack.
ASF's do well fed a quality lab block. Common brands of feed
for ASF's include Harlan Teklad, Mazuri, LabDiet, Zeigler and Kent rodent
feeds. I use dog food, many people have been using an undedicated hog feed in
their colonies. They also enjoy some seeds in their diet. Millet is a favorite
of the species, along with black oil sunflower seeds. Corn tends to mold so is
best avoided. Black striped sunflower seeds are incredibly high in fat and
should be given sparingly. They will
also make use of fruits and vegetables, timothy hay, dog treats, and whole
grain products, although the latter should be given as a simple treat and not a
steadfast source of food.
Offering untreated wood blocks and paper products to gnaw
and shred is favorable but not mandatory.
ASF's are incredibly easy to breed. Simply by putting them
together in a group, you don't have to do anything other than provide good
husbandry and remove the babies as they reach 4 weeks of age.
Female ASF's are sexually mature at approx. 8-9 weeks of
age. This does not mean that a female will get pregnant immediately and have her
first litter at 12 weeks of age. Many times, females will not have their first
litter until 3-4 months of age.
The pregnancy will last for approx. 21 days. The female can
give birth to as few as 4 pinks, or as many as 20+ her first time. After the
female has given birth, she will go into heat a few hours later and will be
impregnated again. This back to back breeding does not seem inherently
detrimental to the female's health or future litter sizes.
All the females in the group will nurse and care for the
litters indiscriminately, and you will often see the older pups and the father
helping to take care of the pups. The young will sit in one big pile in a
corner with an adult spread eagle over the whole group.
Once the ASF are approx. 4 weeks old, remove the young from
the group and place them into a different cage/tub. By this time, the female
that gave birth to the weaners will very likely already have given birth to her
next litter, or will very soon.
Each female has a litter every 4-5 weeks, and if you have 2
or 3 females, that's the very real possibility of having 32-54 rats born every
4-5 weeks, that need to be "grown up" for a little over a month just
to reach a common feeding size.
The only hazard with having a female heavy group is the
possibility that the older pups will push the pinks down to the bottom of the
pile removing them from nutrition and subjecting them to possible suffocation
Can you clean an ASF cage when there are babies? Yes! Of
course you can! In my house, the ASF
cleaning takes the longest, and here is the reason why, ASF hoppers bolt around
the cage avoiding being caught by me. It's cute, but takes a while to grab each
rat even when you are grabbing two or three at a time to transport them to
their clean tub.
I always have an extra tub on hand, either a temporary tub
to hold one of the groups while I clean, or a tub that is already made into a
housing tub. It's easier to just move rats once, than to move them all out of
their soiled tub into the temporary tub, clean it, refill bedding, then move
them all back into their new tub. That's two times your moving the same group,
and I always want to minimize stress on the breeding groups.
Line breeding is when the parent animal is bred back to its
offspring. Inbreeding is when the siblings are bred to each other. It's my understanding;
line breeding would be the smarter choice. This is because the parent will
always have genes that its offspring does not have, since a parent gives one
half of it's genes, and the other parent gives the second half. Whereas
siblings were made from the same parents, they both carry more of the same
genes from both the mother and father alike.
The down side to raising ASF's is they take at least month
and half (45-60 days) to grow up to feeding size (40-60 grams). This means
you're raising a LOT of rats, and the majority of your tubs will be holding