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Norway rat
Rats are found everywhere on earth where man is.  They are one of the most adaptable animals that are alive today, and the most intelligent of the rodents.  Rats are able to discern different human personalities and a pet white rat (which is the same species as a wild rat) easily learns the difference between it's regular handler and a stranger. The rats we have around here are Norway rats - they are the predominant species around the world.

Contrary to what most people assume, rats are not overgrown mice.  Although they are both rodents, the similarity stops there.  Rats are infinitely more intelligent than mice, and completely different in almost every respect.  Mice are just not intelligent or long-lived enough enough to learn about traps.

              TRAPPING FOR RATS
Rats, however, are very shy and will therefore avoid new objects in their territory - which means that trapping rats can take special skills. If a rat escapes from a trap by chewing off it's tail, or sees another rat caught in your trap, it may be difficult to catch any more.  And you will never catch the alpha (king) rat in a trap.

Rats are intelligent, communal animals that live together - as opposed to mice, which are
trapped rat escapes
territorial and will not tolerate any other mice in their territory.  Communal animals, such as rats, will learn from each other, often share food supplies, and are much more successful because of this.

Do you mean that while you're walking along the street, will a rat attack you?  Like run up and bite you?  Or perhaps run up your pants leg?  Of course not.  You've been talking with too many old wives...
I have explained it a little further
right here on this popup


Remarkably, rats are also quite valuable to us, for several reasons.  Rats are used extensively in the laboratory because they have a naturally short life span, they are easily tamed and can be handled by any human. Their internal organs closely parallel other higher animals, and they are large enough to be worked on easily.  People are also not as sensitive to medical experimentation on rats than they would be for higher animals.  For this reason, rats actually contribute their own fair share to man's development.

The Norway rat, the one we have here in the Northeast, actually originated in central Asia, migrated into Europe, and is now worldwide.  Rats breed all year around, with a couple of peaks.  Females will defend their young ferociously, and a young rat will be sexually mature at the age of three months.   A female rat will litter as many as five times a year, and can have as many as ten pups in a litter, sometimes more.  That makes them quite successful.  In the wild, they are basically grain eaters, but will take advantage of any food supply.  They come in all colors, but in the wild they range from almost red to brown to black, with dirty white undersides.

The Norway rat (or Brown rat) was unknown in the western world until well into the 18th century.  Since it is better adapted for the colder climates than the almost tropical Black rat, the Brown rat has become the dominant species in most areas.

The two most economically important rats are the Black (or Roof) rat and the Norway rat.  While neither species will actually live together, (the Norway rat usually displaces the Black rat) sometimes the Black rat will inhabit the high inaccessible roof areas of a building while the Norway rat will use the basement and bottom floors of the same building.  When wild rats are caged together, the larger Norway rat will attack, kill and then (often) eat the Black rat.

The Black rat, originally from India, was isolated from the rest of the world by oceans and mountains, normally quite formidable obstacles to rats.  Human population movements, however, eventually moved the rats through those areas, and by the birth of Christ, the Black rat was well spread out, eventually making it throughout England by the tenth century, setting up a large population to vector the Plague.
Black rat - (Rattus rattus)

Black rat subspecies
Black rats are much more arboreal than their cousins Norway rat.  Also known as "ship rats" because their ability to scale the rigging of ships, they are endemic in any seaport. There are also two subspecies of the black (ship) rat.

Black rats are especially adept climbing in high places.  Over a period of time they will leave "rub marks" in the areas where they travel regularly. In the picture you will notice that the rub marks show up on the light colored paint.  Notice where they navigate along the narrow piece of trim and easily swing around the vertical barrier. The rub marks are from the oils on their fur.
Black rat rub marks


Rats are actually animals that clean themselves constantly.  What makes it bad for us is the fact that they have been forced into the sewer systems of the world and pick up diseases which they can then transmit to man.  Bubonic plague, (The Black Death) which was actually spread by the Black rat, swept through Europe and parts of Asia in the 14th century killing as much as three-quarters of the population (almost 25 million people) in less than 20 years.  It killed 70,000 in the 17th century and still infects about 2,000 a year, although it is usually easy to treat with antibiotics.

Fresh controversy has broken out over the cause of the Black Death.  For more than a hundred years it was always thought that the bubonic plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis (carried by rats and fleas) was the culprit.  New research, however points more towards some kind of hemorrhagic virus that caused massive bleeding, such as Ebola.

The disease also has not gone away - it kills a few people in the California Rockies almost every year, and it broke out in India in 1994, killing more than fifty people at one time.  It is a disease of over one-hundred animals, including rats and humans. Infection occurs from flea bites and can go from people to rats, rats to people, people to people, or rats to rats.  Here in the modern world, Bubonic plague is more often vectored by unsanitary conditions of drinking water.

In spite of the fact that rats rigorously clean themselves, they have no sphincter muscles and constantly "leak" urine, which is why they contaminate far more than they eat.  Any food or containers that rats have entered must be thoroughly cleaned or disposed of. Foodstuffs themselves should be trashed, and not used for pets or livestock.  Rat urine fluoresces under ultraviolet light and this has been used as a tool to discover rat runs. An experienced inspector, however, can usually detect these rat runs by the time they can be seen by ultraviolet light.  

As widespread as they are, rats will be found wherever there is enough food and water. That means overflowing dumpsters.  Or neglected trash sheds.  Or untended fruit trees. Riverbanks and public landfills and dumps.  Or around the edges of farmers' fields - anywhere, as a matter of fact, where these two conditions exist.  Naturally, these conditions exist right where you feed the birds - so don't feed the birds.

HEY!  I have rats under my woodpile!

Here, in suburbia, there are always rats around.  If there is a constant supply of food, water and shelter, the rats will come.  The shelter they need is minimal.  A neglected woodpile.  Under your shed.  Wherever they can hide out during the daytime and get food and water.  The woodpile pictured to the right has been in place for at least two years, so claims the homeowner.  Couple this with the fact that the homeowner next door has the habit of feeding the squirrels, and leaves
Rats in a woodpile!
water out for her two Pekingese dogs who have free run of her fenced-in back yard. The rats have used the woodpile as cover for their burrows.  Quite a normal, natural habitat for the Norway rat in the suburbs.

The first order of the day is to control the food and water supply.  Eliminate the food supply, clean up the place so they will have no source of food.  If you can eliminate the water supply, do that too.  Replace their food supply with bait.  Rodent bait takes a period of time to work.  That's because a rat will only eat a little bit of a new food supply and if it makes him sick and he doesn't die, he won't eat any more of the bait.

So the bait is designed to work slowly, so the rats do not connect the bait with its effects. It takes five to seven days before it works, and by the time he's "sick" it's too late, the bait has done its work.  If you can also control the water supply, there are liquid baits that can be used. Liquid baits, however, are much more likely to be consumed by non target animals, so great care must be taken when using liquid baits.  

Food baits won't work if the rats can get a regular food supply.  Oh, you may get a few, but you won't get all of them.  This is where experience comes in.  You will have to be able to recognize every food supply within 100 feet or so.  Rats are omnivores and can eat almost anything.  They will even flourish on animal droppings and nothing else.  So if you can't control their food or water supply, you will have to use a tracking powder, usually only available to exterminators.  The tracking powder is placed in their burrows or runs and is transferred to their fur and feet, then ingested in the normal course of their cleaning routines.  Successful rodent control requires close monitoring for maximum effectiveness, and experience in assessing the results.

Well, you can use just about any rodent bait you can buy at the hardware store.  Kind of depends on conditions.  If you have to use it out in the open, where it's likely to get wet, you use a paraffin-based product.  The bait (and poison) is imbedded in a waxy, water-resistant substrate that can take wet environments.  If the areas you bait are dry, you would use a bait that isn't imbedded in paraffin.  There are several types, look for ones that have a maximum amount of grain ingredients for the best acceptance.  Put the bait placements between the rats and their present food supply.  Inserting bait directly into their burrows is the best.  Place it so you can check later to see if there has been activity.  It might take them a few days to fully accept it, then you can make another placement, depending on the seriousness of the problem.  Here again, experience helps greatly.  Being so adaptable, they can easily fool you.  Even happens to exterminators. Make sure that you read the label and follow the directions.

You can also roll your own bait placements!  It's easy, cheaper, and, if you're good, much more precise.
Roll your own!

You should have results within about two weeks - if you have done everything right.  If you haven't, you next campaign will be harder and more intense.  Hard-copy records are very important.  Set up a graph with the important procedures mapped to dates, bait amounts and acceptance, your close DAILY observations, (especially if you haven't done this before) the local weather, and any other applicable notations.  This is very important, because if you fail, you will be able to correct your mistakes the next time.

After you have about 30 or 40 jobs under your belt, you should be an expert rodent man - that only gets fooled every once in awhile!  A word of caution here:  Whenever you do your first rat job, GUARANTEED, they will outwit you in some respect.  And when that first job is finished, you'll look back at some of your ideas and realize that you were WRONG.  Happens every time.  Don't underestimate your target.

With rats, that are already living inside, it is an excellent possibility.  Sometimes it is impossible to guarantee that they will "go outside for water" - something the bait is designed to do.  It doesn't always work that way, in which case, you'll just have to bite the bullet and stand for the smell until the animal "mummifies."  Unless you can find him - sometimes a very difficult proposition.

Rule #1A

We have all heard it before, but many of us do it anyway.  Don't do it. You will cause all the animals more harm than good, no matter what you think. First of all, unnatural feeding spots attract a wide variety of animals. These unnatural feeding spots will also vector diseases and insects among each of the visitors, and to different animal species.  This means you, your children and your pets.  Keep your wild animal neighbors at bay - don't feed them, attract them near your home or habituate them to humans. This is the worst single thing you can do to our wildlife.  Any Naturalist or Biologist will tell you this.   So will exterminators.

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