Ridding Your Home of Roof Rats
What to look out for when dealing with roof rats
One evening after everyone had gone to bed and our home was quiet, we detected a faint scratching coming from the ceiling. It became more intense the closer we grew to its origin. The unrelenting scratching led to a visit into the attic the following morning. Quick investigation revealed long cylindrical pellets on the attic floor boards that appeared larger than mouse droppings, but much smaller than what one would expect from a larger rodent. We resolved that we either had mice on steroids or dreaded ‘roof rats.’ A bit of research revealed that we had indeed discovered ‘rat poop’ and that immediate action would be required.
It became clear that we were going to war with the rats and, as in any conflict, it pays to know your enemy. Consequently, our first challenge was to determine why they’re called ‘roof rats.’ As we suspected, the fact that the ‘scratching’ was coming from the attic was a dead giveaway. They may live near the ground, but usually they frequent the attics, rafters, and crossbeams of buildings. Like humans, roof rats need food, water and shelter to survive and prosper. A warm attic, a leaking roof and virtually anything edible – even paper (the kind used with insulation and wallboard) – make for roof rat utopia. By the way, they don’t have a discriminating pallet; they’ll eat virtually anything nutritive including fruits, vegetables, nuts, pet food and invertebrates (spiders and worms).
What were we up against? Lots! Roof rats breed throughout the year, with two peaks of production — in February and March and again in May and June. The period of least activity is in July and August. The gestation period is approximately 21 days, and the number of young per litter (of which there can be up to four per year) averages almost seven. Plus, in urban area where they have no natural predators, the survival rate of babies is particularly high. Whew, talk about a population explosion!
What should we be looking for—besides the infamous droppings? We learned that the typical roof rat is dark brown in color and measures between 13 to 18 inches long, including its tail. In fact, it is distinguished from other rats by that tail, which is longer than the rest of its body. Roof rats are sleek, slender, and agile and have large ears. They make typical runways along pipes, beams or wires, up and down the wall studs, or along the horizontal ceiling joists, often leaving a dark-colored layer of grease and dirt to mark their travel ways. Oh, and did we mention that they’re nocturnal. So, they do their best work while you’re asleep. Not a comforting thought.
Now all we needed was a battle plan and some weapons. The rat control pros that we consulted suggested using snap traps as the preferred method of control, especially for families with small children or pets that might be affected by poisons. Plus, traps prevent the serious odor problems that can occur when poisoned rodents die in inaccessible areas. As suggested, we placed the traps near the rat droppings and next to walls. We were sure to place the ‘trigger end’ of the trap against a wall or known runway. Another great pro tip was to ‘prebait’ by using a baited but unset trap at first so that the rats can become familiar with the baited trap. After two or three days we set the trap. The advice was good. In just a couple of weeks we ‘trapped’ several rats. We were particularly successful when setting two traps side by side.
Keep in mind that roof rats and droppings can transmit diseases like the bubonic plague and typhus. When handling rodents, be sure to use the following precautions to avoid the possibility of disease transmission.
• Use rubber gloves.
• Apply household disinfectants at maximum recommended concentrations to dead rodents, rodent droppings, nest and surrounding area, and allow for at least 15 minutes contact time before removal.
• Clean the affected area with paper towels or a mop. DO NOT SWEEP OR VACUUM. Double bag the disinfectant-soaked rodent and clean-up materials securely in plastic bags and seal.
• Before removing gloves, wash in disinfectant, then soap and water. Thoroughly wash hands with soap and water and dispose of gloves and clean-up materials with other household waste.
Don’t have roof rats now? Don’t worry, the moment they outgrow your neighbor’s attic they’ll be looking for lodging in your attic and others in your neighborhood. They make their way around by climbing utility poles, balancing along wires and fences, launching from tall vines and tree branches. Light a pro burglar, once they’ve ‘cased the joint’ they look for an easy access point such as holes in siding, gaps in roof shingles, tears in foundation and attic vents or other openings slightly smaller than a quarter through which they can squeeze. They especially like homes with dense shrubbery, standing water and firewood stacked on the ground next to the house – the latter being a great daytime hideout.
And oh, don’t have the notion that because you can ‘eat off the floor’ in your home that yours will be spared. While good sanitation is important, it is only one of many factors that prevent roof rats. Controlling rats by making it impossible for them to enter your home is the best way to eliminate them. You can do this by closing gaps between roof jacks and vent pipes; weather stripping all four sides of your garage door; repairing any broken or torn foundation and attic vents; and sealing any opening larger than one-half inch around your home and roof.
Other things that you can do to make your home less attractive to roof rats include: trim trees back from the house at least four feet; and thin bushes and vines; clean up debris in your yard and storage areas; don’t leave pet food outside, especially at night; pick fruit as soon as it is ripe and quickly dispose of any fallen citrus from the ground; store firewood at least 18 inches above the ground and 12 inches away from exterior walls; and eliminate standing water and repair leaky faucets.