Five Random Rodents
Rodents keep me up at night. I can hear them scritch-scritch-scritching in the attic and the walls. Their whiskers lightly tickle my skin and their buck teeth gnaw on my bones. Their beady little eyes stare at me from every corner, glinting in the dark. Not because my house is infested—it isn’t—but because of the Daily Mammal Rodent Problem.
Of the 5,000-ish mammal species in the world, 40 percent are rodents: small, toothy, bewhiskered, scurrying, and so nauseatingly beige. Tan. Grayish-brown. Buffy to tawny ochraceous with white underparts, if you want to get technical. In my database (the Smithsonian’s Mammal Species of the World), there are 2,278 ratty little pipsqueak rodents.
So there are thousands of them, but so what? Mammals are mammals, right? Right, but there are no photographs of many of these rodents. None! And they are boring. I would guess that 80 percent of them look alike. In fact, one family of rodents, Muridae, accounts for one sixth of all mammals in the world. Well, depending on how you count and whether you consider Cricetidae part of Muridae or its own family. I think. No rodent has ever been called charismatic megafauna, not even the largest rodent, the capybara, which I drew years ago.
They just aren’t fun to draw, which I could get past if they were at least easy to draw, but the lack of reference images makes it so frustrating. I have to find related species that people have taken photos of and then find descriptions of the species I’m actually drawing—see the above “buffy to tawny ochraceous with white underparts”—and sort of improvise. And I know that I take some liberties in my drawing, I mean, my work is not hyper-realistic and it’s not going down as the definitive record of what any given species looks like, but I still want to be accurate in my own way, and I have wicked perfectionist tendencies that make me uncomfortable when I feel like I’m falsifying anything.
So I’ve been putting the rodents off. My idea of drawing multiple rodents in one go has helped, but if I happen to pick one that appears to be short on reference, I’ll usually skip it, telling myself that maybe someone will take pictures of it in the next few years. I have been trying to draw rodents. I’ve drawn 108 rodents out of 380 mammals total, which means that 28 percent of my drawings have been rodents. It’s not 40 percent, but it’s not too bad. But I am still terrified that if I see this project through, I’ll be drawing nothing but anonymous beige furballs for the last decade.
This all brings me to my new idea, which is: Random Rodents! I went to random.org, which generates random numbers, and told it to pick five numbers between 104 and 2278, which were the numbers of the undrawn rodents in my database when sorted by…whatever, you get it, yes? It picked 1789, 1873, 903, 1565, and 980, I researched the rodents associated with those numbers, and here they are!
Notice that we got lucky with the porcupine; the other five, although varying from 7 centimeters to 20 centimeters in length, look like quadruplets. Sure, some of them have long tails and some have slightly shorter tails, and some are ochraceous to tawny while others are tawny to ochraceous, but all in all, I could probably just spend a week drawing generic beige mouse-like critters and no one would know the difference.
The porcupine is Hystrix cristata, a North African crested porcupine. The others, top to bottom and left to right, are Leopoldamys sabanus, the long-tailed giant rat; Pelomys campanae, the bell groove-toothed swamp rat; Punomys lemminus, the puna mouse; and Reithrodontomys paradoxus, the Nicaraguan harvest mouse. I’ll try to do a Random Rodents drawing once a week and together, we’ll force our way through this rat’s nest.