Greater cane rat - Thryonomys swinderianus

• Species List • Dung Key • Tracks Key • Silouette Key • Distribution Matrix • Biomes and Vegetation Types • References • The African Safari Series •

Hedgehog - Atelerix frontalis | Bushbabies - Lorisidae | Greater cane rat - Thryonomys swinderianus | Baboons and Monkeys - Cercopithecidae | Pangolin - Manis temminckii | Antbear - Orycteropus afer | Hares - Leporidae | Squirrels - Sciuridae | Spring Hare - Pedietes capensis | Porcupine - Hystrix africaeausralis | Jackals and Foxes - Canidae | Weasels, Polecats, Badgers and Otters - Mustelidae | Civets, Suricates, Genets and Mongooses - Viveridae | Haenas - Hayenidae | Cats - Felidae | Hyraxes - Procaviidae | Pigs - Suidae | Antelope - Bovidae | Rhinocerus - Rhinocerotidae | Zebras - Equidae | Hippopotamus - Hippopotamus amphibius | Giraffe - Giraffa cameloperdalis | Elephant - Loxodonata africana


Afrikaans Grootrietrot Zulu Vondo 
Shangaan Nhleti Shona Tsenzi
Tswana Bodi

F 3cm
H 5cm

Distribution Dung
Flattened and grooved

Unusual features/differences from similar animals

The muzzle has a protective pad which protrudes in front of the nostrils. The gnawing teeth have two grooves near the inside edge.


Cane rats prefer reed beds and thick, tall grass near water. The can do damage to crops such as maize and sugar cane.


They eat roots, shoots, grass and reeds. Grass stems are bitten off near the base and then into short lengths which they eat while holding it in the front feet feet. The drier sections and leaves are not eaten but discarded and mark the location of the feeding sites. They will dig to get to underground food sources and nuts and fallen fruit. They will eat the bark of shrubs and trees. They often become pests by eating cereals and root crops.


Litters of up to 8 pups (average of 4) are born after a gestation of about 160 days. The young are born with hair and open eyes. The can follow their mother shortly after birth and are weaned at four weeks. Their predators are  leopards, baboons, pythons and Servals. Cane rat meat is (reportedly) delicious and large numbers are caught and eaten by people. They are farmed for their meat and can attain a weight of over to 8 kg in captivity.

Behavior and Habits

Cane rats are mostly nocturnal but may are also active at dawn and dusk. They shelter in the densest parts of grass and reed beds or in holes. Small groups of up to about 10 live together. If they suspect danger they stand motionless and run away and then stop suddenly when alarmed.  A cane rat does not bite when caught but try desperately to escape.


When disturbed they have a habit of running away an then stopping and standing motionless until they are closely approached. They are good swimmers.


The alarm signal is a whistle and they will thump the ground with their hind feet. When a group is feeding together they make soft, grunting sounds.

Dung and Field sign

Droppings are compact flattened pellets about 2cm long, light coloured and rough surfaced with a groove on one side. Pathways through vegetation, piles of discarded stems and leaves and dung at feeding sites show their presence.


Safari Media Africa/C.A. Mitchell 2000-2012

Developed by