The Rat

Blog post by Theodore Dobbs

The Rat

What is a Rat?  And how to spot them?

A rat is the term used to describe a large rodent, typically between 6 to 8 inches in length with brown, grey or black fur (but white fur and mixed coats is also possible), which assist the rat with blending in with dark surroundings and environments. These environments are often hard to get into, which means rats must be able to fit into small places to escape predators.

They have noticeable features like beady, dark eyes, long whiskers and two rounded ears, but their two most recognisable features include a long, hairless tail (which is typically around the same or similar length to their body- like 7 inches) and four lengthened incisors that stand out in their mouth full of sharp teeth (their teeth will grow throughout their life, hence their penchant to chew on items and food to wear them down). They can use these sharp teeth as a method to defend themselves against attack.

The function of a rat’s tail is numerous- it’s main use is for balancing purposes as it assists in distributing their weight evenly; this is necessary as they often scale and climb up trees, walls and can traverse narrow ledges. The other use includes temperature regulation; the hairlessness nature of the tail allows heat to be released to keep the rat cool in hot climates. 

Whilst wild rats are often averse to interacting with humans and other animals, they are actually social creatures when it comes to each other, needing to socialise to function as being alone for extended periods of time can reduce the rodent to become depressed and listless.

What attracts rats?

Rats are attracted by food; where the food is, is usually where the rats are. Rats are omnivores meaning they can eat anything possibly edible from both plants and animals (typically they eat fruit, nuts, seeds, insects, small animals, and eggs), but what their diet consists of will depend on the area their habitats are located in and the food available.

For example, if a rat’s habitat is near to the shore or a river then their diet will typically consist of fish, bird eggs and other small animals. But a rat that lives in a city (often within the sewer system) is likely to source their food from rubbish bins or discarded waste on the street like meat, bread and other domestic food types. If a rat were to live in the woods or a heavily wooded area then their diet will consist of nuts, fruits, and seeds for the most part.

Why do they come into our homes and properties?

Rats will often find their ways into heavily human populated areas as the mere presence of humans often means that there is often a surplus of food for them to access. The waste alone produced from human consumption is often enough to feed entire colonies of rats, enabling them to feed their numbers without too much struggle.

Whilst rats prefer to stay away from direct interactions with humans, buildings like houses and apartments can provide an ideal nesting ground for a mating pair of rats to breed, the rat pups having a relatively safe growing environment within the walls or foundations of the building, free from predators.  

What diseases and bacteria can they spread?

Rats are notoriously known for their role in carrying and inadvertently spreading the bubonic plague (though that was in part due to fleas), but they are also guilty of transmitting or carrying a multitude of human disease (on par with the mosquito). Some of these diseases that humans can contract from rats over the years include the bubonic plague and pneumonic plague, as well as salmonella, leptospirosis, murine typhus, tularaemia and hantavirus.   

What damage can be caused by Rats?

For such a small creature, Rats can cause a lot of damage in little time simply based on their numbers and the location of their habitat. When it comes to property damage, they can do this to varying degrees of severity.

For example, a milder version of property damage would be burrows (their nest and pathways) which has less structural impact and more superficial, whereas a much more dangerous form of property damage could be caused by rats chewing through things (in an effort to file their teeth down) in particular if the rat chews through electrical wiring it can lead to a fire starting. Rats can contaminate food sources, as they will eat anything we do, but they will often urinate and defecate on any food left uneaten. Rats are also known for carrying diseases that pose a threat to humans and other animals.

What can people do to minimise rat coming into their homes?

Rats are skilled masters at entering buildings, as unwanted their presence may be; they can use such things as heating vents, gaps in electrical conduits, utility lines, water pipes and things as simple as one inch wide holes in the property-but there are methods people can use to deter them from getting inside.

It is recommended that potential entry points are first located so the process of rat-proofing the property can begin. Plug up gaps in the floor and walls using a copper mesh or something similar (like the material used in metal scouring pads), seal holes with heavy duty material like heavy gauge screens or thick hardware cloth. Caulking and foam insulation can be used to finish sealing the openings once wire mesh had been fitted as well. Repellents can also be used as a temporary solution to ward off rodents, though it is not a permanent fix (due to them gradually losing effectiveness on the rats).

Modifying the way a property is kept can reduce the chances of it becoming the rat’s new habitat. The simplest method is performing basic sanitation habits at a good standard, this would include;

  • Remove and dispose of any rubbish piled close to properties as this enables burrows and openings that rats might use to get in to be exposed. The disposal of the rubbish should be done on a regular basis to prevent rats from getting into it.
  • Food should be stored in containers, such as cans with tight-fitting lids which have been proven to be rat-proof. Types of food to store in this way include birdseed, grass seed, and other possible foods stored outside the home in an outbuilding.
  • If you own a pet, it is essential you clean up its dropping from the garden or outdoors; both for it being hygienic but it also as it won’t attract rodents with its scent. With pets that may have food outside it may be useful to remove it as soon as the pet is finished with it.

These are just a few methods that can be used before resorting to lethal measures when dealing with rats, but if a full infestation has occurred then it may be the best option for everyone’s safety to call a qualified Pest Controller.

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