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Friday, July 22, 2016

The Original Hoarders

Pack Rats - the Original Hoarders

I am often asked, "Do you ever find something valuable in a pack rat nest?

My answer, not really, but occasionally we do find something interesting. Pack rats are fascinating creatures and I never cease to be amazed at some of the things they decide to "collect".

Above is a sample of some recent finds.  

A. Plug - no cord, just the plug. Pack rats are notorious for their love of chewing wires. In this case the rat neatly severed the plug from the cord and took it home as a souvenir. 

B. Rubber Ducky - who does not love a rubber ducky? Pack rats do! The size of this rubber ducky is about the size of a pack rat's body. Why would the rat grab it and drag it all the way home? One of life's great mysteries. 

C. Walking Wind-up Teeth - never let it be said pack rats do not have a sense of humor.

D. Balls - in this case three University of Arizona play golf balls, all nibbled upon.  More than any other man-made object pack rats love and collect balls.  Balls, balls, balls - golf balls, tennis balls, wiffle balls, even a soccer ball once. Pack rats love balls! 

E. Toy Fire engine - this is not some match box toy. This is an old die-cast toy from the fifties. 

F. Jesus - when everything in the world wants to eat you, it never hurts to have a little religion.

G. Bow Tie - adult pack rats live alone, but they are social and do interact with other rats. Sometimes maybe formally. 

H. Squeaky Toy Poodle - the best pack rat finds come from nests near homes with small children or dogs.  The rats love to "borrow" toys of all types.

I. Flip Flop - Do you ever leave your flip flops outside by the patio door and find one missing? Somebody did. It is incredible that a rat could carry something as big and heavy as a flip flop off. Note that the fabric "upper" has been completely chewed off.  

J. HO Train track - I have to ask myself - where do the rats find this stuff? 

H. Pack of Cigarettes - these were were found in a nest about forty feet away from a patio table where they were left. The owner was not happy to find them missing. 

L. Silver Spoon - A personal favorite of mine because there is a wonderful children's book called Desert Night Shift, by Conrad J. Storad, that I read to my grandchildren. The main character of the book, Penny Pack Rat, experiences many perils searching for a silver spoon as a gift for her Nana. A great book for kids, and yes indeed pack rats do seek out silver spoons. 

M. Sheriff's Badge - another toy. Finding a toy in a rat nest never get old and always makes my day.

N. Champagne Cork (slightly chewed) - Champagne, black ties - who knows what goes on while we are asleep and the pack rats roam.

99% of what pack rats collect is natural- sticks, stones, cactus. They also collect dead small animal carcasses, animal dung of all types, snake skins and bones. Most of the rest is trash. The items pictured were found in the process of removing hundreds of pack rat nests over a period of months.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Ignorance Kills

Ignorance Kills

A Great Horned Owl killed by rat poison found in the Tucson foothills

People just don't realize how dangerous rat bait can be for local wildlife.  Poison rodent bait is designed to be used only for three specific types of rodents - Roof Rats, Norway Rats and House mice.  The poison is meant to be used in urban areas and all rodenticide labels caution against the use of poison in areas where wildlife may be present.  

I think if the public really understood the danger's of rat poison to wildlife they would think twice before using or letting their exterminator use poison bait. 

The Santa Monica Mountains sit next to Los Angeles very similar to the mountain ranges outside Tucson.   A big difference is that the National Park Service has an active program to evaluate the impact rat poison on wildlife in the Santa Monica Mountains.

In just 2014 they found:

• 11 of 12 mountain lions tested positive for exposure and two died from rat poisoning.

• 93 of 105 bobcats tested positive for exposure and 70+ died from related secondary disease.

• 20 of 24 coyotes tested positive for exposure and 12 died from poisoning.

Unfortunately no one tracks wildlife poisonings in the Tucson area, but be assured the problem is no less severe. 

In general, Californians tends to be more environmentally aware and educated than other areas of the country. In part because the topic is in the news. Some excerpts from two recent California articles:

The Malibu Times, 10/1/2015
Rodenticide Poisons Mountain Lion at Point Mugu

The body of P-34 was found by a runner on Sept. 30
 at Point Mugu State Park. A necropsy proved
 the mountain lion was killed by rodenticides.

"A young mountain lion was killed in late September after ingesting rat poison that came from a poison bait box, according to authorities with the National Park Service (NPS) at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA)."

"P-34 is the latest of several larger mammals found dead as a result of rodenticide poisoning in the SMMNRA, according to the NPS, with two other mountain lions and many coyotes falling prey to what Poison Free Malibu calls the “chain of death.”
"As smaller rodents ingest poison and die, they are sometimes eaten by larger animals, such as coyotes and mountain lions, who then fall prey to the anticoagulant rodenticides found in the smaller rodents and birds."
“I think we need to work collectively to raise awareness so that people understand that when they utilize rat boxes, they understand what happens to the environment around them — to the habitat surrounding it,” another Poison Free Malibu founder, Wendi Dunn, said. “We are not separate from our environment — we are not ever. We are all part of the system.”

The MoonPark Acorn, 12/4/2015 
The Dangers of Rat Poison

SAD SIGHT—This coyote, found ill from being exposed to rat poison, is being cared for by the California Wildlife Center in Calabasas. To deter pests, wildlife experts suggest removing from outdoor trash and food that could attract rodents and plugging holes in houses. 
Courtesy of California Wildlife Center
SAD SIGHT—This coyote, found ill from being 
exposed to rat poison, is being cared 
for by the California Wildlife Center in Calabasas. 

"When people use anticoagulants to get rid of unwanted critters, they don’t just kill rats and mice—they also imperil wildlife, pets and children."

"Nearly all mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, hawks, owls and other wild animals in the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills are exposed to rodenticides."

“Animals suffer; they bleed internally and lose all their blood,” said Duane Tom, director of animal care at the California Wildlife Center."
"When carnivores feed on rodents that have ingested anticoagulants, they accumulate the poison in their system."
"Many animals brought to the wildlife clinic have bruising and excessive bleeding due to repeated exposure to the poisons."
“Without doubt, anticoagulants are a big concern for wildlife and also for pets. The poison is also a problem for young children. It’s not a benign thing that people just put out to get rid of mice and rats. As you poison these animals, they don’t die right away,” said Tom, who has worked at the wildlife rehabilitation facility south of Calabasas for nine years.
"Rodenticides are indiscriminate killers, and the bait boxes that contain them attract all kinds of animals.
Most coyotes, bobcats and cougars that die from mange—a skin disease caused by parasitic mites—also test positive for rodenticide exposure.

Wild predators are needed to regulate the rodent population.

If poisoning mice and rats also kills off large cats and canines, the rodent population will proliferate.

"A breeding pair of rats can result in about 15,000 rats in a year, and a pair of mice can produce up to 1 million offspring in just over a year," Mahan said in a Wildlife Center newsletter.

“Anticoagulants will worsen rodent infestation. As you poison the rodents, you’re also killing their predators. If you kill off the predators, then rodents can multiply uncontained,” Tom said.

Want to help?
Use the link below to print and share this excellent flyer produced by the National Park Service on the dangers of rat poison to local wildlife. 

Personally I think it would be great if every retail store that sold poison bait had to post a similar flyer next to the rat poison shelf. Also all exterminators should provide customers a copy before using poison bait outdoors. If consumers were aware of the true risks of poison bait to wildlife, I believe most would choose alternative methods to deal with rats.  

Monday, June 1, 2015

Kissing Bugs - Repost

Kissing Bug season is here once again!

I am re-posting this blog from last year for those who want to know more. 

Kiss Me Not!

With the warm dry nights of late May, adult kissing bugs are beginning their annual 
nighttime dispersal flights when they leave their homes in pack rats nests to seek mates and new hosts.  

Normally guided by starlight, the insects are easily fooled and drawn to the much brighter light emitted from homes.  As the sun rises, the kissing bugs seek any crack, crevice or other dark place to hide for the day. At night they emerge to seek food and for a kissing bug food means the blood of any sleeping or sedentary warm blooded mammal, including humans.

What are kissing bugs?
A kissing bug is an insect and a member of a class of insects called "true bugs".  There are over 50,000+ different species of true bugs that range in size from 1mm to around 6 inches in size.  All have one thing in common - they feed on liquid through a thin proboscis, kind of like a straw with a sharp point on the end.  Most feed on plant juices, but a few feed on blood, including about 130+ species of a subfamily called Triatominae.  

Other names for this group of bugs includes cone-nose bugs, assassin bugs and triatomines, but kissing bug is the most common.  The term comes from one very specific species, in South America that has a tendency to bite its victims around the mouth area - thus kissing bug!

If you do any research on kissing bugs, be sure you are getting information on the kissing bugs in your area. Only 12 of the 130+ species live in the United States and of those only 3 species of kissing bugs are found in the Tucson area, the most common, by far, pictured above - Triatoma rubida.   

An excellent web site which covers these species in depth is published by the University of Arizona and can be found  This blog pertains only to these three species.

Just as important as what is a kissing bug, is what is not a kissing bug.  We get many calls from people who think they have seen a kissing bug, but hey have not.  Of the 50,000+ true bugs species, many look very similar to a kissing bugs.

true bug, but not a kissing bug!

The picture above is a boxelder bug.  It feeds on plants juices and not blood. Here is an entire gallery of similar looking bugs that are not kissing bugs.

Another factor to be aware of is that young immature kissing bugs look slightly different than adults. 

Some important facts on kissing bugs:

  • Can be hard to identify - many other bugs look similar.
  • Prefer to live with and feed on pack rats.
  • As adults are confused by house lights and may enter homes through cracks.
  • May also enter homes from a nearby pack rat nest, if the host rat is eliminated.
  • Feed on blood from the time they are born.
  • Are nocturnal and in hiding 99% of the time.
  • Only "bite" to feed.
  • Find victims by CO2 emitted.
  • Feed like a mosquito, not like a tick.
  • Bite itself is painless due an anesthetic in insect’s saliva.
  • Very similar to a mosquito bite for most people - red, itchy bump.
  • Feeding takes minutes and prefers sleeping or sedentary victims.
  • If disturbed while feeding, it will withdraw then reinsert its fragile proboscis resulting in a cluster bite marks.
  • Only bites exposed skin, does no go under clothing or covers.
  • May only feed every few weeks, and be in hiding the rest of the time.
  • Unless migrating to mate, as long as a host remains available, the kissing bug will remain nearby.

Why should you care?
In the Tucson area, most people really don't have to care about kissing bugs.  Unlike other parts of the world, kissing bugs here are not big disease carriers.  The bite can itch a little, but is not a big deal - for most people.

Unfortunately, for a few, a bite can be deadly - about 2% to 7% of the population becomes sensitized and experience a severe allergic reaction after a second or subsequent bite. The reaction to the first bite may be mild.  The second bite has more redness and swelling. With each bite the reaction becomes more severe and  symptoms can include swelling, nausea, fever, cramps and life threatening anaphylactic shock requiring immediate emergency medical treatment.  

What to do if you have been bitten?
If you have a reaction to a bite that is more then a small itchy bump, you should check with a doctor or if there is any doubt call Poison Control, 1-800-222-1222.  If you have a worse reaction on a subsequent bite - seek help and be prepared.  If you become sensitized, you cannot predict how you might react to the next bite.  People severely sensitized must keep an EpiPen (epinephrine auto-injector) with them at night just in case.  Many others keep some liquid benadryl handy in case they begin to have an allergic reaction.  Any medication will just give you a few more minutes to seek medical attention.  If you think you are having an allergic reaction - seek help ASAP. 

How to eliminate and prevent kissing bugs
Pesticides inside the home are of little use for kissing bugs.  The bugs will usually be hiding in an area not typically treated with chemicals - like inside a nightstand.

If you feel you may have been bitten by a kissing bug, take a good flashlight and start looking for the engorged bug.  You will usually find it within 5-10' of where the bite occurred.  Common hiding places include between the mattress and box spring, under the box spring, behind the headboard, or under/inside a nightstand.  The bugs like cracks and crevices. Take your time, check carefully, take out drawers, turn things upside down.  If the bite came from a kissing bug, it can almost always be found with a good search.  If the bug is engorged with blood you have found the culprit.

The good news is you will usually just have one, or a few, kissing bugs inside.  Find and destroy works better than any other method.   You can also hide sticky traps (Home Depot) under the bed and furniture to check for activity.

Sticky Trap

There is a lot you can do to prevent kissing bugs:
  • Prevent pack rat nests near your home through good landscaping and storage practices.
  • Properly eliminate pack rats nests near your home.
  • Minimize light showing outside at night when it is hot and dry.
  • Use "bug" bulbs for outside porch lights.
  • Make sure doors and windows seal tightly.
  • Caulk crack and crevices on the outside of the home that might allow bugs inside.

Worse method of control – poisoning the pack rats

Poison may kill a pack rat, but it also leaves behind hungry kissing bugs and does nothing to remove the nest which will just be reoccupied by another rat.   Poison also moves up the food chain and kills the animals that naturally control pack rats, practically – hawks & owls!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Some Things to Know About Pack Rats - Extended Edition

I started Mr. Pack Rat eleven years ago in 2004.  That is approximately 50,000 trapped pack rats at thousands of Tucson area homes.

I knew a lot about pack rats before I started Mr. Pack Rat. I know a whole lot more now.  I continue to learn something new all the time. These little critters never cease to amaze me.

With some great guidance from local production company, Pendulum Swing Media, I was able to condense all of my experience into a two minute entertaining video covering the very essentials of what anybody dealing with pack rats should to know.

People love the video, but some want a little more information on the key points of the video. Using the script of the video, here is some additional details including some links to previous blogs and the web site:
  • In the beginning there were pack rats. Pack Rats were here long before we were. Pack rats are native american rodents and are not even true rats like the Norway, black,roof, or sewer rats most people think of when they here the word "rat".  Those rats tend to live in urban environments, are associated with people and are originally from Asia. 
  • Wild creatures with special traits that allowed them to survive in the desert. Again, unlike the typical urban rat, pack rats don't depend people and our garbage to survive.  They don't need water to drink and can eat just about anything. They can climb and dig. They can chew through the hardest material. Their eyesight is poor, but they can actually smell their way home with their keen sense of smell.  
  • Nature was in Balance and everything was as it should be.  Nature loves balance. predator versus prey, available habitat & food supply equals population pressure. In a truly natural environment the pack rat population tends to be stable and limited to 4-6 nests to an acre.
  • Then came people.  People tell me all the time "they want to keep things natural". Well once you build roads and houses, things are not natural and never will be again. You have changed the desert.  There is more run-off, more vegetation, and fewer predators.  
  • For the pack rats this was a good thing.  There were more places to hide and fewer predators to run from.  Pack rats have an unlimited food supply in the desert. They can and do eat almost anything that grows. What is limited is the habitat. A rat needs a safe place to live and with people the number of places to live sky rockets. What is good for the pack rats is bad for the things that eat pack rats - there are simply fewer predators near houses.

  • But things did not go so well for people.  The pack rats would build nests in cars; climb up walls into attics; chew through electrical wiring, and squeeze into tight spaces like air conditioners or pool heaters.   Pack Rats do not need people to survive, but they will certainly take advantage of any opportunities you give them.They are curious explorers and are always seeking new places to live and new things to eat.  
  • They became troublesome and destructive, making messes and attracting other pests like kissing bugs and snakes. More hiding places, fewer predators, far more rats.  Pack rats must chew often since their teeth never stop growing.   Like most rodents they also dribble urine wherever they go and since they eat some of the most indigestible foods you can imagine like cactus pads, they also produce a phenomenal amount of droppings - up to 50 a night!  This waste is disgusting and unsightly. Pack Rats are an important host for kissing bugs and through there are fewer predators around houses, any snakes that are nearby will seek the pack rats.

  •  Nature was no longer in balance.  Letting thing go wild around a home without maintenance does not restore natures balance.  You may simply create an unnatural oasis in the desert for pack rats to gravitate to.  
  • To fix this, people needed a plan. Trapping seemed like the most obvious answer, but simply getting rid of a rat does not work since pack rats reuse the same nests generation after generation.  Get rid of one rat and another just moves in.  The biggest mistake people make is dealing with the symptom of the problem - rats and not addressing the cause. I have gone to homes where the owner tells me people how they have trapped 78 rats from under one shed. "They must be hundreds living under there", they say. When I tell then adult pack rats are solitary and only one adult is living under the shed at a time, they are in disbelief, but it is true. Eliminate one rat and another moves in.  This can go on forever.    
  • Next they tried poison, but this was even worse than the first idea.  Disguised as food, poison actually attracts rats and, since pack rats hoard food, is often never consumed. If a pack rat does eat the poison it dies slowly over days and is easy pickings for predators. And, since the predators eat the rats and everything in them, they could easily die from the poison as well. I could write a short book on all the problems with poison.  Over the long term it is probably the least effective thing you could do to control pack rats. Most people don't know, but to use poison legally for pack rats in Arizona requires a "Special Local Needs" (SNL) labeled bait and includes some very specific requirements, but that is a topic for a future blog.  
  • But eventually, Mr. Pack Rat found something that worked. It's pretty simple really.  First, catch the rat.  Then remove or seal off the nest.  Once you understand pack rats the solution is really pretty simple, sometimes a lot of hard work and not always easy, but in principle - simple. Catch the rat, eliminate the source by either removing the nest, or when the nest can't be removed, then seal it off from future rats.  The analogy I like to use is dealing with pack rats is like painting your house. You can do it yourself or you can hire a professional house painter. Experience and having the proper tools can make a huge difference in the time, frustration experienced and over all quality of the job, but you can do it yourself.
  • Finally, prevent future rats from moving into the area by minimizing potential shelter and excess ground cover.  Rats also get into places like attics, garages, pool heaters, and air conditioners, so everything should be rat proof before a rat moves in.  You may line an an area where there will always be pack rats, but they don't have to be a problem with some basic prevention tips. Minimizing hiding places through some basic landscaping and good storage practices makes a huge difference. 
  • And that's it. If you are not sure where to start, we can help - pack rats are what we do.  We trap and remove thousands of pack rats every year using safe, effective and humane methods. Check out our web site '' for everything you need to know about pack rats.  At Mr. Pack Rat we offer a service for those who live in our service area. We don't mind helping others who want to do the work themselves regardless of where they live.  Again, we are like the professional house painter, there will always be some who prefer to use a pro and some that don't and that is OK.  If you don't use us, please don't use poison bait, it doesn't solve the problem and don't waste you money on what I call pack rat solution myths
  • Mr. Pack Rat - the pack rat experts!