Difference Between Rats and Mice

As they both have small beady eyes, long tails, and similar coloring, rats and mice can be hard to differentiate from each other.

In order to effectively deal with infestations, it is important to first distinguish which rodent is present. Knowing what to look for makes identification easier.

Mouse

house mouse image
house mouse
  • Up to 5 inches
  • Larger ears than rat
  • Droppings the size of rice

Rat

norway rat
norway rat
  • Larger than mouse
  • 8-10 inches long
  • Longer tail than mouse
  • Droppings the size of beans

Get rid of rat infestations.

Quickest Way to Tell the Difference

The simplest way to distinguish between mice and rats is by paying attention to size.

Size

Mice grow an average of five inches long and have three-inch tails, while rats can grow over a foot in length, including their six-inch tails.

In general, rats are much larger than mice, and the average adult weighs around 10 to 11 ounces and grows between 8 and 10 inches long

Color

The rodents may also vary in coloration, as house mice tend to have dull gray coats, while Norway rats are brown with dark gray or black spots. Finally, mice have large, round, gray ears that stick up on top of their heads, whereas rats have smaller, pinkish ears.

Other Biological Differences

The thin and hairy tails of mice generally exceed the total length of their bodies. Mice have small triangle-shaped snouts and ears that are relatively large compared to the rest of their body.

Rats, too, have tails that just about double their total length, usually measuring 6 to 8 inches. However, unlike mice, their tails are thick and hairless. In addition, rats have small ears and blunted muzzles.

Differences in Droppings

Since rodents tend to be active at night, people do not always encounter the creatures even when they’re present in homes. Humans may instead be alerted to infestations by rodent droppings, which differ from mice to rats and can be used as a means of identification.

Mouse Droppings

house mouse poop
house mouse droppings

source: UFL.edu

Mice are capable of producing over 100 fecal pellets in a single day. They are less than a quarter of an inch long, narrow, and pointed. Typically, the first sign of a mouse infestation is finding their rice-sized droppings around the home or garage. Additionally, individuals may notice greasy stains along walls or runways as mice have oils on their coats that leaves behind residue when they use the same path constantly.

More info on mouse droppings.

Rat Droppings

norway rat poop
Norway Rat Feces

Rat droppings can be distinguished from those of mice as they are considerably larger, approximately the size of baked beans. Their droppings are large and blunt, measuring at least three quarters of an inch or longer. Rats generally defecate less than half as frequently.

More info on rat droppings

Difference in Tracks

Homeowners who find droppings along baseboards and tiny footprints around the foundations of homes may have an infestation.

rat vs mouse track
rat track vs mouse track

What Do Mouse Tracks Look Like?

house mouse track
mouse track
image source: Dee Ebbeka icwm.org

Because of the pests’ small size in comparison to other rodents, mouse tracks are fairly easy to identify. Prints usually measure less than a half inch in length and consist of a column of side-by-side tracks.

Mice have front feet with four toes, while their back feet have five. It may or may not be possible to distinguish the marks of their tiny claws or dragging tails in tracks.

What Do Rat Tracks Look Like?

norway rat tracks
rat tracks
img src:Dee Ebbeka https://icwdm.org/

Identifying rat tracks can be tricky because they closely resemble prints of other pests. Rats’ feet vary in length from three eighths to three quarters of an inch and measure about one half of an inch in width.

It is easiest to identify rat tracks in snow, mud, and dust on floors or counters. Since the pests establish foraging trails and rarely stray from them, prints aren’t hard to find in these conditions.

Rat tracks can differ depending on the species, age, and sex of the pest. However, some features are universal. Like most rodents, rats have four-toed front feet and five-toed hind feet.

The toes of the rear feet are tightly aligned, whereas the fore-toes are widely spaced. Their forefeet have four pads, while their hind feet have five. Due to rats’ gait, tracks left by their front feet are often obscure, leaving their back feet as the only clear identifier.

Dusting for Tracks

Rodent tracks in snow, mud, and dust can mean an infestation is imminent, if not already established.  One way to confirm an infestation is to dust for rodent tracks.

Around any areas where a problem is suspected, homeowners should lay down a light coating of unscented talcum powder or mason’s chalk dust. After waiting for a day, shine a flashlight across the area to reveal any tracks left in the powder.

Different Feeding Patterns

Mice and rats also practice different feeding patterns.

How Rats Eat

Rats are very methodical and particular when choosing their foods. They are averse to newly introduced items in their environments, which can make baits and traps less effective on rat infestations.

How Mice Eat

Mice, on the other hand, are opportunistic feeders that dart out in quick bursts to nibble at food before retreating to safety.

However, all rodents must gnaw continuously to keep the size of their teeth manageable, it is difficult to tell which species may have caused damage around infested homes. However, rats are capable of causing slightly more damage due to their larger size.

Difference in Behavior

There is a behavioral difference between mice and rats, as well.

For instance, mice are curious pests that will investigate anything new to their environment.  Rats, on the other hand, are suspicious, which is why baited traps sometimes fail to fool them.

Mice live inside cracks and crevices, whereas rats are burrowing creatures that often create their own homes by digging into the earth.

Both pests travel along walls for added safety, but mice are more likely to take their chances and make a dash for the middle of a room or walkway.

Both Present Problems for People

Both species were inadvertently brought to the continent by early European settlers and are closely associated with human activity.

Today, they are responsible for a wide range of problems, from food contamination to the spread of dangerous diseases.

Correctly identifying the type of rodent present makes ridding homes of infestations easier.

Learn how to get rid of rat infestations.