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Rat.   To get rid of rats, first get rid of what they come for, which is food. More....
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Rats are equally at home on the farm as they are in the city.  If you provide food, they will come. Rubbish and Rat both start with an “R.” In the old days before garbage was buried daily, adults and young’uns used to go up to the town dump to shoot rats for target practice.  The very first step in battling rats is eliminating sources of food.  Get your neighbors to stop feeding them too.

  • Don’t leave food out in the open.  Keep all pet food indoors.  Clean up spilled livestock feed, and bird seed under feeders.  Store bird seed in heavy metal or plastic containers with lids. 
  • Rat bait station, homemade.
    A homemade rat bait station. Purdue University.
    Keep garbage in tightly closed containers or dumpsters, or put it out the morning of pickup.  Put ¼” wire mesh over drainage holes in the bottom of dumpsters.  Place dumpsters on pavement, since rats burrow into soil.  
  • If you just heap compost in the backyard, you WILL attract rats and other animals like skunks and raccoons.  Do not put meat, cooked foods, eggs, fish, dairy, bones or vegetable oil or grease in compost piles or bins.  Use an enclosed metal/plastic rigid compost bin with a lid.  Prices range from $20-$500 – see www.composters.com for choices.  None are rat proof, but many are critter-resistant (avoid bins with slats).  Wrap ¼” wire mesh around the sides and bottom.  When you add food, cover it, even if the bin has a lid.  Keep the compost moist and turn it often – rats do not like to shelter in wet, frequently disturbed areas. 
  • Place dumpsters and compost containers away from walls, since rats do not like to cross open spaces.  Rats use tall vegetation to hide from predators. A 24” wide weed-free “moat” of pea gravel around buildings will reduce rodent pressure.
  • Seal openings larger than ¼” to exclude both rats and mice from buildings. Use ¼" wire mesh over basement windows and other openings like pipes, or use sheet metal.  Coarse steel wool is useful for plugging up holes in walls. 
  • Store firewood and lumber 9-12” off the ground and at least 9” away from walls.   Leave about three feet of space between hay bales and do not keep them for more than one year.
  • When tested under laboratory conditions, no ultrasonic electronic devices were effective against any type of pest, according to Washington State University.  Some folks claim rats are repelled by a minty smell.  Trying putting a few drops of peppermint oil (available at pharmacies) on a cotton ball in areas of concern.  RVers use “Bounce” scented dryer sheets in drawers and around electrical wires to keep mice out.  Refresh every few months.
  • For all types of traps, placement and smearing with bacon grease will improve success. Rats are too elusive for live traps, and besides no one wants you to release your catch in their backyard. A basic 3”x7” snap trap is better.  Place three per room, 15-20 feet apart, along walls near possible entryways or in dark, hidden corners – if indoors, behind the refrigerator or stove.  If you have children or pets, put the traps under a box with a 3” diameter hole on each end on sides nearest the walls.  Mark the box: “Caution – Rat Trap.”  To keep curious cats out, put something heavy on top of the box.  Position the trap with the bait hook facing the walls.  To get rats used to the traps, for the first two weeks set them out baited with bits of bacon or hot dogs, but don’t set the trigger.  After bait disappears for a few days, set the trap.  Be careful– a rat trap can break your finger.  Check it every morning.  If you don’t catch a rat for three days, move it.  Use an inside out Ziploc plastic bag to remove bodies, seal and dispose in the trash.
  • Glue traps are considered one of the most inhumane methods, as the rats die slowly from lack of food and water. Rats often jump right over them.  There are no effective sterilizing baits.
  • Poison baits are effective, but are generally considered a last resort, partly because of the risk of poisoning non-target species.  Get rid of other food sources first.  Most poisons used today are anti-coagulants.  After consuming a lethal dose, the rat dies from internal bleeding within 1-5 days (depending on the poison).  Because the bait causes dehydration, rats often leave a building in search of water. When they do die, they mummify so they don’t smell as bad for as long.  Place baits in runs, 23-33 feet apart.  Rats feel more secure in a bait station and thus usually eat more.  You can put the poison in a bait box described above, or use a 2” diameter PVC pipe with an internal baffle to secure the bait.  If you have children, pets or livestock, the bait station MUST be tamper proof.  Eastford Building Supply sells a locking plastic bait station by Tomcat for $14.95, with a rod to hold the bait inside.  Another popular bait trap is made by Protecta. For rats, avoid loose baits like d-Con which are more likely to be moved and consumed by non-target animals.  Packages or blocks are better – Real-Kill Rat & Mouse Killer all weather bars are a popular brand.  Of course, always read and follow all instructions on the label.  Remove and properly dispose of any uneaten bait.
  • An electronic gizmo called the Rat Zapper does not use poison and you don’t have to touch the rat for disposal.  The classic version costs $29.00 and the Ultra, which is more powerful, is $39.90 from the manufacturer ratmousezapper.com.  A flashing light indicates "success.”  Some reviews claim cleanup can be harder than advertised.  In the Ultra model, D batteries must be replaced after two uses, but according to the pros, this device does work.
  • For professional help removing rats, contact a licensed pest exterminator. Their experience with pest control and use of both traps and bait will increase the likelihood that you can get the problem under control in the short term, and they can advise you on how to prevent future infestations over the long term.

See more info on getting rid of rats at RatRelief.com (traps, poison, repellant, exterminators, prevention, etc.)


More interesting rat facts:

  • Allegheny Woodrats: These native Woodrats have white underparts, a long furry (vs. scaly) tails and ears and eyes that are larger than the Norway Rats, which are a different species.  They are solitary rats, that live alone.  They are primarily vegetarian and mostly nocturnal.  A type of pack rat, they compulsively collect things like bits of rags, metal, bones, glass, paper, feces of other animals. They were once found in one location in western CT (Goodwin 1935), but are now extirpated (locally extinct).  Deforestation, habitat fragmentation, loss of acorns and chestnuts due to Gypsy Moths and blight respectively, and severe winters, and roundworm parasites transmitted by raccoons may have contributed to their decline. Allegheny woodrats are listed as threatened or endangered in several states.  More information on NatureServe
  • According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, the second leading cause of wild animal and plant extinction is invasive species.  The first is habitat loss.
  • The Roof Rat is #80 on the Global Invasive Species Database list of 100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species.
  • Norway rats are bigger than Roof rats.
  • Rats can swim ½ mile in open water.   
  • Rat bites are very painful.  A human bite is 150 pounds per square inch (psi), dog 1000 psi, rat 7000 psi, according to Bell Labs.
  • Fleas actually transmit the plague, but their favored host is a rat.
  • A poultry farm may have one rat for every five chickens.
  • Rats can communicate ultrasonically.
  • An estimated 500,000 households have pet rats (albino or hooded Norway rat relatives).  Teddy Roosevelt’s children had a pet piebald rat named Jonathan.  Roosevelt also owned a rat terrier. Owners report that pet rats are intelligent and affectionate. They are calmer, and less likely to bite than regular rats.   Norway rats are smarter, more sociable and less nocturnal than Black Rats, which is why they were used to breed pet rats.
  • Despite being common on ships and in wharfs, Black rats are not good swimmers, but they are strong climbers and are acrobatic. They do better in tropical climates.  They hang out in trees, and  nest in bunches of leaves and twigs. Black rats came to the U.S. before the Norway rat, probably with early colonists in Jamestown in 1609. They have caused catastrophic losses and extinction of many species of wildlife, especially on islands like Hawaii and New Zealand.
  • The traditional mouse trap was invented by Hiram Maxim, who is also responsible for the Maxim machine gun.
  • A young Norway rat is about the same size as an adult house mouse, but has a scaly tail, larger feet, and small ears and eyes.  An adult is about 16” long and weighs about a pound. Source.
  • Rats are a primary host of the disease Leptospirosis, a relatively rare bacterial disease.
  • Twenty rat skulls have been found in pellets taken from the nesting site of a single pair of barn owls. Source
  • 20 things you didn’t know about rats.
  • Jacko, a 13-pound bull terrier, set the record during a rat baiting contest in 1862 when he killed 100 rats in 5 minutes, 28 seconds.
  • In traditional Chinese culture, the rat is one of the 12 zodiac signs.  Source
  • Rat testicles are 2x the size of those of a 400 lb. gorilla.
  • Rats are developing resistance to some commonly used anticoagulant poisons.
  • Rat meat is sometimes eaten in the Philippines, where is it called “star’ meat.
  • Roosevelt also owned a rat terrier.
  • The film Indiana Jones and the Final Crusade used more than a thousand live and puppet and mechanical rats.
  • The International Rice Research Institute estimates that the amount of rice lost to rats in nine East Asia countries could meet the caloric needs of up to 362 million people.
  • Gambian giant pouch rats have invaded the Florida Keys. They can weigh up to 9 lbs., and can carry diseases like monkey pox.
  • Lab rats used for research are bred from albino strains of the Norway Rat. 

Links and References:


Originally published in the Villager newspapers on September 28, 2007


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