Whitehead's Spiny Rat (Maxomys whiteheadi)


Named after the British explorer John Whitehead who first documented its existence,Whitehead’s spiny rat (Maxomys whiteheadi) has reddish-brown upperparts with grey under fur.. As its name suggests, Whitehead’s spiny rat also has numerous inflexible grey spines with black tips on its upperparts, which are thought to be for protection. The underparts are orange-buff with grey under fur and numerous soft, pale spines  The tail, which is shorter than the head and body length combined, is bicoloured, with a brown-black upper side separated from a white underside by a sharp line. Male Whitehead’s spiny rats generally have longer hind feet than females. This species of rat has the largest teeth of all Maxomys species. Six subspecies of Whitehead’s spiny rat are currently recognised, all of which differ slightly in appearance. Size Head-body length: 10 - 15 cm
Tail length: 9 - 13 cm
Weight 50 g


Whitehead’s spiny rat is native to Southeast Asia, ranging from peninsular Thailand South to Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. This includes the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, as well as various neighbouring islands.


Belonging to a genus of rodents which are the most common in Southeast Asian tropical forests, Whitehead’s spiny rat is found in old undisturbed areas of forest, as well as areas that have re-grown following a disturbance (secondary forest) . This ground-dwelling spiny rat also inhabits rice paddies and gardens adjacent to forests . Although generally a lowland species, Whitehead’s spiny rat has been recorded at elevations as high as 2,100 metres


Believed to be monogamous, with each breeding pair occupying a home range that is defended against other spiny rats . It is believed to breed throughout the year, at least in peninsular Malaysia, and has one to six young per litter .
A nocturnal animal , Whitehead’s spiny rat spends its nights foraging on the forest floor for a wide range of plant material, such as fallen fruits and seeds, with a preference for oil palm fruit . However, as an omnivorous species, its diet also includes arthropods. Like other spiny rats, it is a hoarder, storing seeds in deep underground burrows that are dug by other forest animals. Whitehead’s spiny rat is eaten by a number of predators, including the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis).


The main threat to Whitehead’s spiny rat is the widespread loss of habitat on Sumatra and Borneo, as a result of commercial logging and agriculture, particularly oil palm plantations . Lowland forests have been particularly hard hit, with some predicting that if this rate of deforestation continues, lowland forest in Sumatra and Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) may soon disappear completely

Conservation Actions:

 It is recorded from several protected areas