Protect Your Home or Business From Rats
Rats are a consistent concern for property owners, as they cause greater economic loss than any other vertebrate pest. Known to spread numerous diseases, rats are a serious health risk for people and pets.
Rats often live in close proximity to humans and can be found nearly anywhere people live. New England is no exception, as the region is home to the two most common rat species in the world, the Norway rat and roof rat.
Considered Old World rats, the two species originated in Asia and were introduced into new territories as an unintended result of global trade. Today, the invasive rodents are found on every continent except Antarctica and thrive in urban, suburban, and rural environments.
Common Rats in New England
Appearance & Identification
What Do Rats Look Like?
Rats are robust, fur-covered creatures with long hairless tails. Larger than mice, rats may measure between 7 and 16 inches from nose to tail and can weigh as much as a pound. Their narrow heads feature dark eyes, upturned ears, and long whiskers. Fur is coarse and can be brown, gray, or black in color.
The rodents walk on four legs and can use the appendages to climb, swim, burrow, and grab food. The tail, which is scaly and generally about the length of the head and body combined, provides balance and enables a rat to stand erect on its hind legs.
As nocturnal creatures, rats are primarily active night. The pests constantly explore their environments and use the evening to forage for food and build nests. Trees, shrubs, and underground burrows are common nesting sites for rats living outdoors.
When inhabiting manmade structures, rats can be found in cluttered basements and enclosed spaces, such as voids in ceilings, walls, attics, and cabinets. Described as neophobic, rats generally avoid objects and foods that are new to their environments, which can make the use of traps challenging for the untrained.
What Do Rats Eat?
Rats are omnivorous in nature and consume nearly any type of food. In the wild, rats eat:
The rodents will often enter structures in search of nourishment and take residence if food is accessible and in sufficient supply (also need a constant supply of water). When inhabiting homes and buildings, the opportunistic eaters feed on stored grains, like cereals, and food waste. The rodents largely use the evening to collect food and hoard the gatherings in hidden areas.
Known for prolific breeding, rats can multiply excessively in relatively little time. The rodents are polygynous, and colonies typically consist of a male who mates with multiple females. Females carry litters for a few weeks and are capable of producing several litters in a year.
Reproduction continues year round, with increased breeding in the warmer months. Litters usually consist of between five and a dozen offspring, or pups, which take over a month to develop into adults. Rats typically live for one to two years.
Problems Caused by Rats
Rats are destructive pests that can gnaw through wood, insulation, and wiring in a structure. In addition to property damage, rats cause health problems for humans, pets, and livestock.
Humans can contract salmonella and food poisoning from eating food contaminated by urine and feces rats leave behind after getting into food supplies. The pests also carry severe diseases like typhus, Hantavirus, jaundice, and rat bite fever.
Rats are also physical carriers, or mechanical carriers, of insect pests like ticks, fleas, mites, and lice. Pests introduced by rats can carry diseases which may affect people as well as pets and livestock.
Signs of Infestation
Since rats stay within 300 feet of the nest, droppings indicate the pest lives close by. Droppings are dark, cylindrical, and dull-ended and measure about a half an inch long. The pests can produce as many as 50 droppings a day and will leave excrement anywhere they travel during their evening activities.
Noises made from rat activity, such as scurrying, clawing, and gnawing, also indicate their presence. Fresh gnaw marks on wood and plaster are also signs that the pests are living nearby.
Rats repeatedly follow the same routes when traveling and usually move along and often rub against walls, leaving traces of dirt and grease (sebum). Any visual observation of a rat is a strong sign of an infestation because the rodents never travel more than 300 feet from their nests.
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Sanitation is essential to preventing rat infestations. Leaving even small amounts of food out may invite the pests to enter the home. Trash should be removed regularly and stored food needs to be sealed in sturdy containers.
Homeowners also want to block rats from entering the home by sealing up gaps that may grant the rodents entry. The pests commonly gain access to a structure through air vents, pipes and drains, and utility lines. Rats are extremely efficient at squeezing through tight spaces and can pass though openings a quarter of an inch wide.
Once rats infest a residence, control is essential. Using traps is often time consuming and may be ineffective if set up incorrectly. To ensure proper control of rats, call a pest control professional for assistance.