Roof Rats, also known as black rats and ship rats, came to North America aboard wooden ships filled with European settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries. Since then, the invasive rodent has flourished along the eastern and western coasts of the United States, as well as in the Gulf States. The agile roof rat has long been associated with the plague, among other diseases, and can cause considerable damage to homes and food supplies.
Similar in appearance to other common types of rats, roof rats have dark brown or black coats, light underbellies, narrow bodies, and large ears. They possess hairless, scaly tails that are often longer than their bodies and, in addition to their dexterous feet, allow them to jump and climb with ease. Roof rats' large, hairless ears give them keen senses of hearing, which makes up for their relatively poor eyesight. Roof rats grow between 12 and 18 inches in length including their tails.
Preferring to nest off the ground, wild roof rats nestle in trees or among dense, overgrown vegetation. Dark, enclosed spaces, such as attics and unoccupied lofts, make excellent homes for the rodents and bring them into frequent conflict with humans. The primarily nocturnal omnivores constantly explore and memorize pathways in and around their nests.
Are roof rats known to enter homes or yards?
Roof rats are known to enter homes and gardens in search of suitable shelter and food. Home gardens or yards with citrus trees attract the rodents with the promise of easy meals, while attics and elevated, enclosed spaces make excellent nesting territories. Once they settle into convenient nesting spots, the rats can travel hundreds of feet each night in search of food. This means that even though roof rats may live in the attic of one house, they travel across wires or through the branches of trees to find food in different houses or yards.
Do roof rats harm people or property?
Although roof rats do not attack people or pets unprompted, they will bite or scratch when cornered or handled. Their bites, droppings, and urine can spread dangerous diseases such as murine typhus, leptospirosis, salmonellosis, rat-bite fever, and plague. While foraging for something to eat, rats chew through sealed containers and contaminate large quantities of food meant for people, livestock, and pets. The rodents also chew and tear insulation to use as nesting material and gnaw through electrical wires and wooden structures.
Control and Safety
The most effective way to keep unwanted roof rats away from private property is to maintain clean and sanitary homes. Dispose of loose food, secure garbage bins with tightly sealed lids, and remove outdoor pet food to discourage rats from foraging in and around homes. Eliminating potential nesting sites and points of entry also reduces the possibility of infestation. Trim overgrown shrubbery, cut vines off fences, and maintain tree limbs so that none hang over homes providing easy access to rooftops and attics.
Trapping and Removal
Given that they spread disease and become aggressive when cornered, individuals should never approach roof rats. If signs of infestation present, contact Wildlife Management Services technicians immediately. Our trained professionals have tools at their disposal to aid them in the removal of roof rats. Our methods are safe for all people and animals involved.
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