Discover everything you need to know about rats in our guide below.

gray rat
rat on white background
Rattus Norvegicus

What are Rats?

Rats are members of the rodent family, and their scientific name is Rattus norvegicus. While there are an estimated 50-78 known species of rats worldwide, the most common pest species is the brown rat, also known as the common rat, street rat, Norwegian rat, and sewer rat. 

Rats are medium-sized rodents with large ears and long tails. They weigh about 50-300 g and measure 16-22 cm from rump to head. They range from black to brown in color.

The Behavior, Diet, and Habits of Rats

Rats can make their homes almost anywhere and are commonly found living near people. There are rats on every continent except Antarctica, and they live in farmland, forests, swamps, deserts, and residential and urban areas.

Rats are omnivores, which means they eat virtually anything they can find. In the wild, rats eat seeds, plants, fruits, and nuts. In urban environments, rats scavenge for garbage, human food, and meat scraps. 

They’ll also hunt and kill small animals like lizards and birds. Surprisingly, rats can also consume substances like soap, beeswax, and paper as food sources.

When it comes to behavior, rats are social creatures. They tend to live together in groups called packs, which are led by a dominant male. 

Like all rodents, rats need shelter to live, breed, and rear their young, so they build nests from materials they can forage in the area where they live. They usually construct these nests in spaces like cracks, crevices, rotting trees, wall voids, or the area behind or beneath home appliances.

Rats multiply rapidly, producing as many as 2,000 offspring in a year. Females have a gestation period of just 21-26 days and can give birth to huge litters with as many as 22 young. While rats have a life span of 1-3 years, about 91-97% die within their first year of life. 

rats running around
damage rats cause

What Damage Do Rats Cause?

Rats can do significant damage to crops, food, personal property, and human health. When rat populations grow out of control, they can consume crops, contaminate food supplies meant for people, and destroy personal property.

Rats love to chew, and they can gnaw right through drywall, utility lines, electrical wires, and other building materials. If rats build nests in vents or near heat sources, they can create significant fire dangers.

Additionally, rats carry diseases. Rodent-borne diseases like hantavirus, leptospirosis, salmonellosis, and tularemia can be transmitted to humans via bite wounds, consumption of rat-contaminated food or water, or breathing in dust contaminated by rodent feces or urine.

How to Get Rid of Rats

From a pest management perspective, rats can be difficult to trap and control. This is because they’re intelligent, adaptable pests. Because they’re omnivorous, they aren’t as food-motivated as other rodents. In fact, rats usually have more than enough food, so trying to bait them with rodenticides can prove challenging. 

With this in mind, controlling them requires a multi-faceted approach that utilizes habitat modification, exclusion, and trapping. 

The first line of defense against rats is sanitization. Rats are creatures of habit, and they don’t enjoy changes to their routine. They also have poor eyesight, so they follow scent trails to navigate their environments. By removing or securing all food sources and cleaning up nests and scent trails, it’s possible to make an environment so unpleasant for rats that they’ll leave.

Second to sanitization is exclusion and trapping. Once the area is clean, it’s critical to patch all access points, keeping in mind that rats can squeeze through openings just ½” in diameter – or about the size of your thumb. 

Finally, there’s trapping. When combined with sanitization and exclusion efforts, trapping can effectively remove existing rats and prevent re-infestation. For traps to work, though, they need to be pre-seasoned with rat urine (this prevents rats from identifying traps as new to the environment and simply walking around them) and left in place for weeks or more. 

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Yes, rats carry a variety of diseases, many of which are transferable to humans. Rat-borne diseases include hantavirus, leptospirosis, salmonellosis, and tularemia, among others.

Sanitization is critical when it comes to controlling rats, but the best rat control programs are multi-dimensional. To eliminate rats, you must simultaneously focus on sanitization, exclusion, and trapping.

Some people choose to shoot rats they see around their property. While this may provide a short-term solution, it’s unlikely to resolve the larger infestation since rats reproduce so rapidly and can live in such a diverse array of environments. If you’re unsure how to control a rat infestation, the best option is to contact a professional pest management company for help.

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