ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Students at Bosque School learn a lot about wildlife and the environment since the school actually backs up to the bosque. One student recently made a really important discovery during biology class. The hispid cotton rat has never been spotted in Bernalillo County until Bosque School student, Dylan Jenkins, found one on campus.
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Since it’s basically their backyard, Bosque School’s biology and conservation teacher, Dan Shaw, likes to take his students outside the classroom. During a lesson in August, his students were checking lizard traps when Jenkins notice something else in the bushes.
“One of my students, Dylan, looked behind us over here and he said ‘Mr. Shaw, I think there’s an animal over there and sure enough, it took a lot to focus in. I eventually saw what he was talking about and I thought that looks like a tiny belly cotton rat,” said Shaw.
So they wanted to take a closer look. “So we set a trap, pretty much they go on in, set off a trigger and it closes the bin and they have some cotton and food to keep them busy and so we go out, process them and check how much they weigh, see if they have any defining characteristics. We make note of that and all of that data gets used,” said Bosque School student Ella Adams.
Little did they know they caught a species that has never been recorded in Bernalillo County. “So that’s the hispid cotton rat and it’s a wide-ranging animal across the southwest but it is not known to come this far north regularly. So it has immigrated into Bernalillo County and Dylan was the first person to document that,” said Shaw.
They sent their findings to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish who confirmed it and added the discovery to a scientific database.
“BISON-M is basically a huge database holding over 6,000 species in New Mexico. So being able to add a new county record to that database, it’s a living database and especially the fact that it comes from students, that makes it even better,” said Ginny Seamster, with Game and Fish.
The school is proud of the discovery and the students say they’re grateful to have the bosque as their classroom. “I think it’s really incredible to have this opportunity to use the bosque and utilize it through the lens of conservation. It’s really important that our campus is right here that we recognize what’s going on behind us versus just seeing it as a pretty place,” said Adams.
Shaw says his students have caught at least three of the hispid cotton rats so far. The rat has been spotted throughout southern New Mexico and Valencia County. Game and Fish says the discovery of the species in Bernalillo County could shed light on why it might be heading north.