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Other Names: Black rat, ship rat, house rat, tree rat, climbing rat, white-bellied rat. Also as two subspecies called the fruit rat (Rattus rattus frugivorous) and the Alexandrine Rat (R. r. alexandrinus).
The Roof Rat is an “arboreal” animal, preferring to live above ground level in trees, although it has adapted well to upper areas of structures as well, living in attics and traveling by means of wires and cables attached to homes. It is nocturnal and secretive, staying out of view within the foliage provided in landscaped environments, and feeding heavily on the fruits, nuts, vegetables, or garden snails found there. Like the Norway Rat is also is shy about new objects in its familiar environment, and may avoid control measures such as traps or bait stations. A normal life expectancy for them is one year or less, ranging from 5 to 18 months. The gestation period of the female is 22 days, litters average 8 to 9 pups, and she may have 3 to 4 litters in one year, being somewhat less prolific than the Norway Rat. Peaks in breeding occur in the spring and the fall. Problems from Roof Rats include the potential for disease, such as plague, spread by their fleas. They are extremely destructive to stored food products in structures, crops in residential areas, and cause tremendous damage due to their gnawing on structural members, pipes, and electrical wires.
The Roof Rat is a smaller, slimmer rat than the Norway Rat, and cannot compete with the Norway when space is limited. Its tail is noticeably longer than its body length, the best ID characteristic in the field. In relation to its head it has a pointed nose, large eyes, and large ears. Its color is dark gray to black with a lighter grayish belly, and it ranges to a lighter brown depending on which “subspecies” is present.
Exclusion from structures is of high importance in preventing entry and damage from this rat. They can enter through any opening wider than one half inch, swim well, and can climb any rough surface, along wires and cables, and can jump vertically about 3 feet. Glue trays work very well for Roof Rats, along with snap traps placed in runways and bait stations using various formulations. Like the other domestic rodents they prefer to remain against vertical surfaces, in contact with their “guard hairs” on their body, and control measures should be placed against these pathways.
These are native rodents in the U.S. and occur throughout much of the country with the exception of the New England states and some areas around the Great Lakes.
While these are primarily outdoor rodents, they have become more prevalent indoors in structures in the southwest states. Once inside they have the same tendencies for gnawing and property destruction as do the more common structural rats and mice. It derives its name of pack rat from its desire to collect many different kinds of small objects and store them in its “middens”, along with food supplies and other materials. Small shiny objects are particularly attractive to wood rats, who may leave what they previously were carrying in exchange for the new item (“trade” rat). Adults live from less than a year up to 3 years in a natural setting. There may be as many as 5 litters per year with an average of only 2 young per litter. Outdoors wood rats commonly construct their homes of large piles of sticks, and insects associated with them include Assassin Bugs, along with the usual fleas, ticks, or lice. Disease associations with wood rats include Chagas Disease, Lyme Disease, plague, and tularemia, and most recently a close relative of Hantavirus called “Arenavirus”.
Adults are about the same size as Norway Rats – up to 19 inches nose to tip of tail – but are distinguished by the large ears, large black eyes, and much longer, softer looking fur. They also have furry tails, and body colors range from gray to brown to black on upper areas, with lighter colored bellies and feet, ranging from light brown to white. Nests in outdoor areas are typically round-topped or conical, from 3 to 5 feet in diameter, and they are built from sticks or any other materials the rodent can gather to use. They may be built up in vegetation, in patches of vegetation, in crevices, or next to large stumps or rocks.
Trapping near nests discovered outdoors is successful, with live or kill traps baited with nuts or dried fruit. Toxic bait use is limited, with only a few choices properly labeled for this use. Diligent removal of nests may cause the animals to relocate.
A prolific breeder, the House Mouse is sexually mature at 2 months old, has a gestation period of only 3 weeks, and averages 5 to 8 young per litter, but potentially up to 15. Each female may give birth to 8 litters. The life span can be from 2 to 3 years. The House Mouse is a nibbler, consuming small quantities of food at many feedings. They are “curious”, and tend to investigate new objects that are placed in their environment. Favored foods may be grains, dried fruits, nuts, and sweet materials. They are known reservoirs of diseases such as rickettsial pox (mites), typhus (fleas), and filth problems with Salmonella, tapeworm, roundworm, and others parasites.
Adults remain small, less than 7 inches long from tip of nose to tip of tail. They have hairless, scaly tails that separate them from meadow or deer mice, and ears relatively bare of hairs. A young rat looks similar to the House Mouse, but the rat has feet and eyes that are disproportionately large in comparison with its head and body.
The full complement of traps and baits are effective on mice. Exclusion should consider closing any openings as wide as ¼ inch, along with elimination of any harborage sites that are not needed, such as waste piles, packing boxes, wood piles, or heavy outside vegetation. Like the other domestic rodents they prefer to remain against vertical surfaces, in contact with their “guard hairs” on their body, and control measures should be placed against these pathways.
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