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Gambian Pouched Rat

Cricetomys gambianus

Regulatory Status

The State of Florida lists the Gambian Pouched Rat as a conditional species, prohibiting personal possession and requiring a permit to possess or import this species by licensed dealers, public exhibitors, or researchers that meet certain criteria. Please follow this link for Nonnative Species Permit Applications and Information


Gambian Pouched Rat in a cage

The Gambian pouched rat is native to Africa and is the world’s largest rat, reaching up to 9 pounds. The average size is 3 pounds, measuring 20-35 inches from the head to the tip of the tail. The body is gray to brown in color, with a lighter belly. Beyond its large size, this rat can be distinguished by its long (14-18 inches), almost hairless tail, with the last third a lighter, off-white color. The Gambian pouched rat gets its name from the way it collects food by stuffing its cheek pouches.

In their native range of Africa, Gambian pouched rats live in natural crevices and holes, termite mounds or hollow trees in forests, thickets and around human dwellings. In Florida, they are often seen around houses, particularly where pets are fed outside. They are primarily nocturnal and can climb well, but spend most of their time on the ground.


Gambian pouched rats feed on insects, snails, nuts, seeds and fruit. They are opportunistic and will eat pet food if it is available. They get their name by the way they collect food in their cheek pouches.

Native Range

Africa – Senegal to central Sudan and South Africa.

Florida Distribution

The only confirmed sightings in Florida have been in the Florida Keys with breeding confirmed on Grassy Key, a small key (island) that is part of the city of Marathon in Monroe County. Click this link to see where the species has been reported in Florida.

Potential Impacts

While Gambian pouched rats have been confined to Grassy Key, the concern is that they may make it to the mainland and pose a threat to Florida’s agricultural industry in south Miami-Dade County. These rats are larger than native Florida rat species, including the Key Largo wood rat, cotton rat and silver rice rat, as well as the nonnative common black rat.

Gambian pouched rats reproduce easily and can have up to five litters in the span of nine months, with an average of four young per litter.

The rats are known carriers of monkeypox, a viral disease that can spread to humans. To date, no rats trapped from Grassy Key have tested positive for this disease.