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Roof RatsRattus rattus
Roof Rats Identification
Brown with black intermixed; Gray, white or black underside
Long and thin with scaly tail; large ears and eyes
16" total (6-8" body plus 6-8" tail)
Coastal states and the southern third of the U.S.
What Do Roof Rats Look Like?
Roof rats are long and thin rodents that have large eyes and ears, a pointed nose and a scaly tail. Roof rats have soft and smooth fur that is typically brown with intermixed spots of black. Their undersides are often white, gray or black.
Adult roof rats measure 6-8” (16-20 cm) when combining their head and body length. Their tails are notably longer than their heads and bodies, measuring 7-10” (19-25 cm). This means that roof rats can measure more than 40 cm long. They usually weigh 5-9 ounces (150-250 g), but can grow up to 12 ounces (340 g).
Signs of an Infestation
There are many key indicators of a roof rat infestation in the home. First and foremost, seeing an actual rodent, dead or alive, is a telltale sign of a potential roof rat problem. Another common sign of a roof rat infestation is the presence of droppings around the home. Fresh roof rat droppings are soft and moist, whereas old droppings are hard and dried. The droppings usually measure about ½” (12-13 mm) and have pointed ends. Droppings from Norway rats are larger – measuring about ¾” (18-20 mm) with blunt ends. The discovery of gnaw marks, damaged goods, nests or greasy rub marks also indicates roof rat activity. Other common signs of an infestation are noises in the attic or house walls and damaged electrical wires. To learn more about common signs of a rodent infestation, click here.
Roof Rat Photos
Roof Rats Prevention
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What Do Roof Rats Eat?
Roof rats are omnivorous and willing to eat practically anything available to them. However, they prefer to feed on seeds, nuts, fruits and berries when in season. Additionally, they will feed on slugs and snails, which may become a large part of their diet. Roof rats also feed on insects including American and brown cockroaches. If they live near bodies of water, they will eat fish, shellfish and other aquatic organisms.
Roof rats typically feed at dusk and again prior to dawn, although they will forage several times per night and during the day. Roof rats in particular are food hoarders, meaning that they have been known to stash supplies of things such as nuts and seeds. When eating, they prefer to be in a sheltered or hidden environment.
Roof Rats Education
Roof rats are primarily nocturnal, and thrive in cool weather. They forage for food in small groups of up to ten and tend to return to the same food source time after time, following the same pathway between their nest and food. Though their excellent climbing abilities allow them to easily access the upper parts of structures, they are also highly adaptable and can survive in a variety of environments.
Typically living in colonies, roof rats prefer to nest in the upper parts of buildings, such as attics and rafters. They can also be found under, in and around structures, as well as in piles of wood or debris. Generally preferring sheltered or covered habitats, roof rats are attracted to lush landscapes, dense vegetation and fruit trees. As result, properties with heavy shrubbery, woodpiles and storage boxes are more prone to roof rat infestations.
When looking for indoor shelter, roof rats will enter structures through any access point larger than a nickel. Seeking safety from predators and places to nest, they enter garages, sheds and homes by following pipes or gnawing through materials such as drywall, aluminum siding, and wood.
Roof rats only live up to one year, but have the ability to produce as many as 40 new offspring during their lifetime.
Roof rats live in colonies and prefer to nest in the upper parts of buildings. They can also be found under, in and around structures.
Roof rats secured their place in history by spreading the highly dangerous bubonic plague. Though transmission is rare today, there are still a handful of cases in the U.S. each year. Roof rats can also carry fleas and spread diseases such as typhus via fleas, infectious jaundice via urine in water or food, rat-bite fever via bites, trichinosis via undercooked pork and salmonellosis via droppings. Additionally, these rodents can cause food poisoning by contaminating food or food preparation surfaces.
Similar to many other rodent species, roof rats may show aggression when threatened. In self-defense, they may bite or chase. Diseases including rat-bite fever can be transmitted through a roof rat bite or scratch. Symptoms of rat-bite fever include vomiting, headache, fever, and muscle and joint pain. Click here to learn more about the health threats posed by rodents like the roof rat.