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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!  

Monday, April 20, 2015

Our Worse Nightmare

Pack rats get into attic all the time.  Even if you think your house does not have an attic, there is a space between the roof and the ceiling where a pack rat can live.

The challenge is to determine how the rats gain access.  They only nest in the attic, but every night they will go in and out multiple times doing what pack rats do - mainly collecting food and items of interest.

Pack rats are adept explorers, excellent climbers and can chew through wood and even lead.  They can find their way into attics through the darnedest places. 

They get in through open bird screens. . .

And gaps. . .
 And holes . . 
 And exhaust vents. . . 

And roof intersects. . . 

At Mr. Pack Rat we have trapped, removed and excluded rats from thousands of homes. We know their tricks and we know where to look.

In about 90 out of 100 homes the entry points are obvious for us. Maybe 9.4 out of 100 are more challenging. These are usually tile roofs with areas can be quite difficult to access and inspect. We know where to look, but we can't always get to it. A rat only needs an opening 1/2 wide to squeeze through and will usually enlarge the hole to the size of a quarter or more.  

Then there is that nightmare house, the 1 out of 500 that keeps us up at night.  These are the houses that have the "invisible hole".   Many pack rat entry points are hidden, but most can be found by moving roof tiles, using mirrors, a flashlights and the know-how of how houses are built and where to look.  The invisible hole is much worse. It is both hidden and in an area where it just should not be.  Usually under a tile roof, totally covered and not near any of the places you would typically look for a hole.

Here is one from last week:

A  hole randomly in the middle of a tile roof. There is no rhyme or reason to it.  

How did this happen? Tile roofs have another roof underneath covered with tar paper.  The tile keeps the sun off the roof, but the tar paper makes the roof water-proof.  Sometimes pack rats chew on the tar paper. In this case the rat chewed in just the right spot to find a tiny crack between two pieces of plywood. The crack gave the pack rat an edge to chew on and in no time chewed a hole right in the attic space. 

Here is a picture of the hole from farther away:

How do we find a hole like this?  

Experience and persistence.  A little luck helps.  Sometimes you just have to start removing tile.  These invisible holes are what our nightmares are made of. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Those Teeth! - Update

Those Teeth! - Update

If you read the post Those Teeth! from February 17th, 2014, you may recall this tidbit of information:

... those incisors (teeth) never stop growing. 
 ...they must gnaw everyday to keep their teeth from growing to too long.

In fact, the text books say, if a rodent can't gnaw their teeth can grow right up through the skull of the rodent killing it.  This is something I never thought I would see in the wild, because why would a rat not gnaw dooming itself to an ultimate death?

Recently I trapped a live rat who would not let go of the bars on the trap.  Upon closer examination I could see why.

This poor rat was missing a lower incisor.  The two teeth on the right (viewing the picture)  kept each other the proper length and were razor sharp.  Without a lower tooth to gnaw against, the upper tooth on the right just kept growing way too long and was actually curling up towards the roof of the rat's mouth.  

The tooth had not penetrated the rat's skull, but if the rat had lived it easily could have in a few more weeks.  As it was the rat was obviously malnourished and sickly.  This rat was humanely euthanized and put out of its misery.

Pack rats and all rodents have amazing teeth.  Below is a picture a rock that I found in a pack rats nest.  The rats had actually been gnawing on the rock.  

The rat managed to take off about 1/8" of rock in a 3"x 5".  Maybe chewing on a rock was how the rat I trapped broke off its lower tooth?