Norway Rats and Roof Rats
Rats are some of the most troublesome and damaging rodents in the United States. They consume and contaminate food, damage structures and property, and transmit parasites and diseases to other animals and humans. Rats live and thrive under a wide variety of climates and conditions; they are often found in and around homes and other buildings, farms, gardens, and open fields.
Identify the Rat
People do not often see rats, but signs of their presence are easy to detect. Norway rats can be found in all states in the US, and roof rats can be found in warmer environments like South Carolina and nearby states, and in tropical and semi-tropical areas throughout the world. It is important to know which species of rat is present in order to place traps or baits in the most effective locations.
Norway Rats. Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus), sometimes called brown or sewer rats, are stocky burrowing rodents that are larger than roof rats. Their burrows are found along building foundations, beneath rubbish or woodpiles, and in moist areas in and around gardens and fields. Nests may be lined with shredded paper, cloth, or other fibrous material. When Norway rats invade buildings, they usually remain in the basement or ground floor. The Norway rat occurs throughout the 48 contiguous United States. Generally it is founds at lower elevations but may occur wherever people live.
Norway rats eat a wide variety of foods but mostly prefer cereal grains, meats, fish, nuts, and some fruits. When searching for food and water, Norway rats usually travel an area of about 100 to 150 feet in diameter; seldom do they travel any further than 300 feet from their burrows or nests. The average female Norway rat has four to six litters per year and may successfully wean 20 or more offspring annually.
Roof Rats. Roof rats (Rattus rattus), sometimes called black rats, are slightly smaller than Norway rats. Unlike Norway rats, their tails are longer than their heads and bodies combined. Roof rats are very agile climbers and usually live and nest above ground in shrubs, trees, and dense vegetation such as ivy. In buildings, they are most often found in enclosed or elevated spaces in attics, walls, false ceilings, and cabinets. The roof rat has a more limited geographical range than the Norway rat, preferring ocean-influenced, warmer climates. In areas where the roof rat occurs, the Norway rat may also be present. If you are unsure of the species, look for rats at night with a strong flashlight or trap a few. There are several key physical differences between the two species.
Like Norway rats, roof rats eat a wide variety of foods, but their food preferences are primarily fruits, nuts, berries, slugs, and snails. Roof rats are especially fond of avocados and citrus and often eat fruit that is still on the tree. When feeding on a mature orange, they make a small hole through which they completely remove the contents of the fruit, leaving only the hollowed out rind hanging on the tree. The rind of a lemon is often eaten, leaving the flesh of the sour fruit still hanging. Their favorite habitats are attics, trees, and overgrown shrubbery or vines. Residential or industrial areas with mature landscaping provide good habitat, as does riparian vegetation of riverbanks and streams. Roof rats prefer to nest in locations off the ground and rarely dig burrows for living quarters if off-the-ground sites exist.
While rats are much larger than the common house mouse or meadow vole, a young rat is occasionally confused with a mouse. In general, very young rats have large feet and large heads in proportion to their bodies, whereas those of adult mice are much smaller in proportion to their body size. While both rats and mice gnaw on wood, rats leave much larger tooth marks than those of a mouse.
How to Spot a Rat Infestation
Because rats are active throughout the year, periodically check for signs of their presence. Once rats have invaded your garden or landscaping, unless your house is truly rodent proof, it is only a matter of time before you find evidence of them indoors. Experience has shown it is less time consuming to control rodents before their numbers get too high, and fewer traps and less bait will be required if control is started early.
Article courtesy of The Regents of the University of California