Some Facts About Rakali
The scientific name for the Water-rat or Rakali is Hydromys chrysogaster meaning "water-mouse with golden belly". It’s a lovely description though not always accurate as there can be considerable variations in coat colour, and some don't have a golden belly. Colour ranges from Black/dark brown with a golden or orange underside to Grey/brown with a creamy white underside. They are also considerably bigger than a mouse! In May 2006, during the Bayside Rakali Survey, one male tipped the scales at over a kilo, or 1120 grams to be exact.
Rakali, like the platypus are highly adapted for aquatic life, and together these two species are the most specialised amphibious Australian mammals. Rakali have partially webbed hind feet, small retractable ears, and fur with a dense water-repellent underlayer. Their tail is often as long as the body and is thick and well covered by dark hair, usually with a prominent white tip. The rakali’s tail acts like a rudder when they are swimming or diving for food.
Rakali are extremely versatile hunters, taking most of their food from the water. The diet consists of large aquatic insects, small fish, yabbies and even birds in an aquatic habitat, and crabs, worms, mussels and fish from a marine habitat. Sometimes they can be seen scavenging fresh fish remains from fishermen’s catches. Food is often carried to and consumed on a feeding platform close to the waters edge. Remains of a meal consisting of inedible items such as shells and crustacean carapaces are left as ‘Middens’ on these feeding platforms.
Rakali can be found throughout much of Australia and Papua New Guinea. They inhabit streams, rivers, wetlands, estuaries, bays and offshore islands in both fresh and salt water. In the City of Port Phillip where we focus our survey activities rakali can be found in St Kilda Harbour, Elwood Canal, Albert Park Lake and Port Melbourne foreshore. They don't stray too far from water but have been observed on the top of the St Kilda Breakwater, St Kilda Pier and on Elwood Canal foot path.
The best time to observe Rakali is just a little before sunset - though some observers have seen them foraging during the daytime.