A Rat Is Not Just a Rat

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The childhood classic Charlotte’s Web likely took place somewhere in the Midwest, and it provides some entertaining “insights” into the “psyche” of rats, although not likely any of the rodents in Arizona. In the story, Wilbur the pig questions Templeton, the resident rat, about his name. The rat responds:

Did you say ‘just the rat’? For your information, pig: The rat rules! We were here long before your kind and we’ll be here long after. So, you just keep that in mind next time you feel like reducing me to just ‘the rat’.

Although Templeton’s exact rat heritage remains untold, he was right when he said rats are here to stay, which is why it’s so important to identify the type of rodent you’re dealing with in your home.

Rats and Mice: Differentiating Rodents in Arizona

Many people tend to get rats and mice mixed up. There are several ways to distinguish rats from mice, although no one method is foolproof.

In general, adult rats are bigger then mice. However, an immature rat may be difficult to distinguish from a mouse. Adult rats often weigh close to 12 ounces, whereas an adult mouse weighs about .5 ounce. Generally, rats are about twice as long as most mice.

Some other determining factors between rats and mice are:

  • The tail of a mouse is usually much thinner than that of a rat.
  • The eyes of a mouse are proportionately larger than those of a rat.
  • Rats leave bigger droppings than mice (think baked bean vs. rice grain).
  • Rats need a fair amount of water, and often appear in damp and watery areas. Mice need little moisture.

European Stowaways

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, several species of rodents stowed away on ships coming from Europe to North America. One was the Norway rat, sometimes called a sewer rat. Another was the common house mouse. All are found pretty much anywhere where people live throughout the country, including Arizona.

In recent years, the roof rats took up residence in certain areas of the state as well. All possess the potential to contaminate food stores, damage wiring, and leave germs within a house.

Arizona and Its Rodents

There are plenty of other types of rats in Arizona. However, some, while referred to as rats, are not true rats.

The pack rat, sometimes called the wood rat or trading rat, lives throughout Arizona. According to Arizona’s Yavapai County Cooperative Extension, pack rats are about as big as Norway rats, but have hairy tails (Norway rats have rather bare tails). They build a specific type of nest that looks like a messy bunch of twigs, leaves, and such, which often appear at the bases of cacti and trees, or in disused structures.

The cotton rat has brownish-black fur and a short body, and is generally smaller than a roof rat. Their hairless tails are shorter than roof rats’ tails. These creatures prefer grassy areas, hedges, and marshy areas. Cotton rats are most known for damaging alfalfa, grain, vegetable, peanut, and fruit crops, according to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management.

Even jaded rodent haters find kangaroo rats rather cute. With its oversize eyes, long tail and outsize hind feet, Kangaroo rats are perfectly suited for desert living. They require little liquid intake, and subsist mostly on seeds, although they sometimes sample vegetation and insects. Kangaroo rats have pouches set near their cheeks that are used for carrying extra seeds, not their babies. Keep in mind that some species of kangaroo rats (there are actually 23 different kangaroo rat species in North America) are endangered and thus protected by law.

Getting Rid of Rodents

The most common ways of dealing with a rat or mouse infestation is trapping and/or poisoning. Knowing the animal helps determine the right approach for dealing with them. Humane traps are an option, although not a popular or practical one for dealing with rats and mice.

For light infestations, a DIY approach may work. However, it is best to leave it to the professionals when dealing with mice and rats, especially when it comes to heavy infestations. Using a professional pest control company not only increases the chances of quick eradiation, but it also relieves homeowners of the “ick” factor associated with trapping and removing pests.