One evening after everyone had gone to bed and our home was quiet, we detected scratching coming from the ceiling. A visit to the attic the following morning revealed long, cylindrical pellets on the attic floor boards that appeared larger than mouse droppings, but much smaller than one would expect from a larger rodent.
We decided that either we had mice on steroids or, more likely, dreaded "roof rats."
Immediate action would be required.
As in any conflict, it pays to know your enemy. Roof rats 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.
What were we up against? Lots.
Roof rats breed throughout the year, with two peaks of production, February and March and again in May and June. The gestation period is about 21 days, and the number of young per litter averages almost seven. And in urban areas where they have no natural predators, the survival rate of babies is particularly high.
How do you know you have roof rats, besides finding those droppings?
A typical roof rat is dark brown, and between 13 to 18 inches long, including its long tail. Roof rats are sleek and agile and they typically make 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.
And they're nocturnal. So, they do their best work while you're asleep. Not a comforting thought.
Now, we needed a battle plan and some weapons. The pest control pros that we consulted suggested using snap traps, especially for families with small children or pets that might be affected by poisons.
Traps also 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, making sure the trigger end of the trap was against a wall or known runway.
Another great pro tip was to prebait, 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, the nest and surrounding area, and allow 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 your gloves, wash in disinfectant, then soap and water. Thoroughly wash your 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 a new home.
They make their way around by climbing utility poles, balancing along wires and fences, launching from tall vines and tree branches. Then they look for easy access points 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 is a great daytime hideout.
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.
Also: Trim trees back from the house at least 4 feet and thin vines and bushes; don't leave pet food outside, especially at night; and pick fruit as soon as it is ripe and quickly dispose of any fallen fruit.
More home improvement tips and information are available on the Web at:
http:www.onthehouse.com or by calling 1-800-737-2474, Ext. 59.