Monday, October 12, 2009

Tree Rat Nesting Season in The Woodlands

Each year in this neck of the woods, our forest rats search for a place to nest. They like to come to the homes where it is nice and cozy during the winter. If they can get in, they will nest under boards or in some quiet place in the attic. We often respond by calling our favorite pest control company. Some of us try to solve the problem ourselves. What to do?

Unfortunately many of their natural enemies are removed and relocated elsewhere. The Coyote is our best friend for controlling the rat. Owls are also a good predator but we do not have many anymore - lack of trees and space. Since rats are night creatures, their enemies are typically out hunting when the rat is out foraging - night time!

Every year, I am confronted with some sort of rat issue. Last year, they managed to get in the garage, so I had to deal with them there. They had a litter and I had to capture as many as possible. What I did not get, I ended up poisoning. That irradiated them well. They made a mess before I could get them out. To prevent them from returning, I  replaced the bottom seal of both garage doors. Yes, all it takes is a very small opening and they can squeeze through it. About two years earlier, they had found a way to get into the attic through a small opening on an eve of the house. I found that by going up into the attic, turning off all artificial lights and finding where the light was entering the attic. I filled the space with a can of spray Styrofoam and painted it. That worked well. Now we have no light entering the attic.

Last night we heard some gnawing again. This was the second night during the past week that we were awaken by some creature. I went outside and could find nothing of course. So I decided it was probably a rat. The weather and time of year are both perfect for them to be trying to get inside. I know we have Opossum outside regularly but believe this time, the problem is that rats are trying to find a way into the house or possibly are already inside. So I bought a new type of trap and baited two of them - one outside and one inside. The outside one is portable, wired to whatever is available. I screwed down the inside trap because I do not want one to grag the trap into a wall cavity.

We have found that we can endure a dying rat in the wall, but it is not the most pleasant thing in the world.  No perfume or air deodorant helps. It just stinks for about two weeks.  Ventilation is the best tool - a fan in the area with one of those heated deodorant systems. Just don't invite guests! The alternative is to cut out the wall and remove it, if you can find exactly where it is. There will be flies in the house also, so there is a possible health issue in leaving the animal to decay naturally.

Chances are you have seen one of these animals at night or in your yard, especially if you have bird feeders or feed your dogs outside. I have seen them in the trees but very seldom see them crossing the street at night. The less timid Opossum is more likely to be in the street than the rat.

A Tree Rat in the East Texas forest will forage around for almost anything to eat, especially grain, insects and fruit. The forest has an abundance of food in the summer. In the winter, especially when much of the ground is covered in water, a rat will search on higher ground or in plants.  Nearby wild rats tend to come out of the creek bottoms and go up where homes are built because it is dryer and its food tends to do the same. Closely following the food chain would be the Rat Snake and the Coyote among others. Today, the rat is finding itself at the top of the food chain, much to our demise. We kill or remove the Coyote. Many humans despise all snakes, so the snake is on the decline as well.  If we feed the birds, we feed the rat as well. If we feed the squirrels, we are feeding the rats as well. Their olfactory senses are keen. They can smell the presence of other rats, many types of chemicals and can even smell individuals of their own kind like a dog. The can even sense change by their smelling senses. The results in rats returning to the same place they were born and socializing enough to bring in other individuals to their abode. So having scat about the house provides a means to communicate among individuals.

So we conclude with some advice on removing them from the premises. I do not advocate a catch and release strategy. The next best thing is to physically kill them with a good trap. Don't use the old type of rat trap. There are newer kinds that produce more of a quick kill rather than allowing the animal to suffer for a long time. After seeing what the animals go through with poisons, I do not recommend a slow death using that strategy either. Rats are very smart. They rarely get into things they cannot get out of. A poor trap will allow a rat to be trapped with its tail or a leg. The rat will bite off a leg to free itself. They also learn by observation. When they see another rat trapped or killed by a device, they will avoid it. Two types of traps are recommended - the electrical (expensive) trap serves the best purpose. Second choice is called the Snapper. It is a strong heavy plastic trap that can be attached to wood by a screw. It's food cup can be removed to clean or put load the bait.  My portable unit is tied down with a string of wire. My permanent trap is screwed into the attic floor. Let's see how fast I can remove these creatures this year!

Good luck with yours.

1 comment:

~Molly~ said...

We have been plagued by tree rats in and around our home for over 30 years!! They nest in the walls and tear around the garage at night. Occasionally they've come inside through our dryer vent, ick!

Our house is across the street from a large heavily wooded oil lease(at least 50 acres) so we have lots of coyotes, foxes, raccoons, skunks and possums, as well as feral cats. I'm guessing our rats migrated from the woods many years ago and never had to go back!

We did catch quite a few in traps but they got wise. I didn't want to use poison because we have 3 dogs within feet of our garage door. Finally I gave in and we haven't seen another since mid-summer!