Pest Profile: Rats
People feel very strongly about rats, whether they love them or hate them. Some people keep rats as pets, and some people want to stand on a chair and scream whenever they see a rat, pet or not. Because rats are very intelligent, they have adapted very effectively to live near humans. Sadly, this makes them a major pest problem for us.
The two most common rats people will deal with are the Roof Rat and the Norway Rat. Both species are medium sized rodents that rarely reach more than a pound in weight. These rats are amazing survivors, and they are highly intelligent and easily trained. They have an acute sense of smell which allows them to be used to detect land mines and tuberculosis. This sense of smell can also protect them from poisoned food. Like all rodents, they give birth to litters. These particular rodents give birth to at least two litters each year, although it’s commonly three to four litters in actuality. Their expected lifespan in the wild is roughly a year due to predators, but rats can live for two or more years in captivity.
Why They’re Pests
Over the millennia, rats have learned to live closely with human populations. Many rats live off of our wasted or neglected food. Rats are very opportunistic, so they will gladly take easy pickings from our garbage, gardens and even storage over having to forage in the wild. Their close ties to humans have made rats more brazen and fearless towards us, which allows them better opportunities for food, but puts us in closer and closer contact with them. Rats also enjoy the warmth and comfort of sneaking into human buildings for the winter, so people occasionally will encounter or hear rats indoors.
Are They Dangerous?
Like all rodents, rats have powerful teeth that are constantly growing. They need to file these teeth down, so they will gnaw on just about anything they can. This means that if you have a rat living in your house or walls, that rat is causing some serious damage. Rats will gnaw on metal, wood and even electrical wiring. Electrical wiring damaged by rats can cause a serious fire hazard, and rodents are believed to cause over a fourth of the undetermined fires in America.
In addition to the fire hazards their gnawing can cause, rats also have very powerful jaws. It’s important for you to not try to corner or appear to threaten a rat up close in any way because they can and will bite.
Do They Carry Disease?
You’ve probably heard that rats caused the bubonic plague outbreak that wiped out over a third of the population of Europe. Well, that’s not entirely true: the fleas the rats carried actually were the carriers of the plague. Still, rats can’t seem to shake this stigma. Outside of their association with bubonic plague, rats can carry Lassa fever, leptospirosis and Hantavirus infection. They are also popular hosts for parasites like fleas, ticks and lice.
Contrary to popular belief, poisons do NOT make rodents go outside for water. They, like you and me, will seek out their bed when they’re feeling bad. Traps are an effective tool while solving a rat problem; not the total solution. In order to achieve complete control, trained wildlife professionals need to make sure all access points into your home are properly sealed.