Rat Control: Protect Your Home
Scientific Classification: Murid
Rats are small, furry animals with prominent ears and long tails. Although rats often have a reputation for being dirty, vicious and harmful, the rodents are often the subjects of scientific research studies that result in important discoveries. However, because of their propensity for damaging food and crops and spreading diseases, rats pose a serious pest problem in much of the world, including the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.
What Do They Look Like?
Size: Although the exact size depends largely on the species and the individual specimen, rats are typically between 13 and 19 inches long from snout to the end of the tail. Generally, the rodents weigh between 7 and 18 ounces.
Color: Rats are usually either brown or black in the wild. Some species may appear gray, as well. Albino and spotted variations also exist. Technically, only the fur contains the color as rats have pinkish skin underneath.
Characteristics: An elongated tail is often the most recognizable characteristic of rats. The appendage drags behind the rodent and, in many cases, is equal to the length of the body. Other distinguishing features of rats include sleek fur, conspicuous ears and clawed feet.
Widely distributed throughout the world, rats inhabit every continent except Antarctica. The rodents thrive in temperate climates and densely populated urban areas.
What Do They Eat?
Rats maintain a largely omnivorous diet that varies depending on the species. Some common rat species prefer fruits, nuts and vegetation, while others favor grains and meat. When food sources become scarce, the small mammals may even resort to cannibalism and prey on younger and weaker rats. In general, the rodents are opportunistic and feed on whatever the pests discover while foraging.
In the wild, rats live about six months on average due to hostile conditions and predation. In captivity or controlled lab environments, the rodents may live as long as three years. Common behaviors include climbing, swimming, gnawing and foraging. The rodents reach sexual maturity at around two to three months of age. Consistent with all other types of mammals, rats give birth to live young. Typically, 6 to 12 offspring result from a single pregnancy.
- Presence of rat droppings.
- Noticeably worn pathways from continued use by the rodents.
- Burrows in garden areas, especially near damaged vegetable crops.
- Visible sightings of the pests.
Problems Caused by Rats
Rats create potentially severe problems on many levels. One of the foremost problems is the spread of infections through rat bites and carried fleas. Historically, the pests inspired horror and were largely responsible for spreading the bubonic plague in the 1300s. Also called the Black Death, the plague wiped out vast numbers of the world population, with estimates reaching as high as 1/3 or more of all people on earth at the time. Though rats do not facilitate the same level of devastation today, the pests regularly carry pathogens for other harmful diseases.
By foraging persistently and gnawing on objects repeatedly, rats also cause damage to food, crops, and structures. Furthermore, the rodents engage in burrowing activities, which may lead to damage to gardens and landscaping. Some rats have even been observed stealing shiny objects. In addition, many people find rats repulsive and even sickening. Merely catching sight of the pests may cause extreme discomfort and unease for homeowners. Though rats are not known to aggressively attack humans, the rodents may bite if cornered or threatened. Seek medical attention immediately if bitten by a rat.
Signs of Infestation
In addition to spotting rats in basement areas, gardens, or other sections of the home, several other signs serve as indicators of rodent infestations. Rats make noticeable burrows in garden areas. In addition, chew marks on crops, wires, some kinds of piping and wooden objects typically signify the presence of rats, as the mammals constantly gnaw on anything available to keep their teeth from growing too long. Droppings are also a common sign of infestation and normally look similar in appearance to raisins. Smear marks and greasy prints may form on the paths that rats frequently tread as well.
Homeowners may take several preemptive steps to strongly reduce the possibility of a rat infestation. Install and maintain screens for all windows, especially those at the ground level, and check regularly for damage. Properly insulating homes and ensuring all holes and crevices remain impenetrable also greatly helps to keep intrusive rodents at bay. Keep garbage sealed to avoid attracting rats with the smell of decaying food. Additionally, rinse items to be recycled and keep recycling in tight containers. Staying proactive and preventing infestation in the first place often eliminates the need for further action.
Tips for Removal from Home
Baiting is one of the most common approaches to dealing with rat infestations. Available in a variety of forms, baits consistently lead to successful removal of the pests when used correctly. Other methods involve cage traps or glue boards to capture and/or kill rats. Unfortunately, the pests do not always perish immediately, forcing homeowners to manually remove or exterminate the captured rodents. In many cases, contacting a pest control specialist is the safest and easiest way to take care of a rat infestation once and for all.