Rats are some of the most troublesome and damaging rodents in the Malaysia. They eat and contaminate food, damage structures and property, and transmit parasites and diseases to other animals and humans. Rats live and thrive in a wide variety of climates and conditions and are often found in and around homes and other buildings, on farms, and in gardens and open fields.
|Color of Belly
|Gray to white
|5 to 10 ounces
|7 to 18 ounces
|Extends at least to snout, uniformly dark with fine scales
|Shorter than body, dark above and pale below, scaly
|Long enough to reach eyes if folded over
|Don’t reach eyes
People don’t often see rats, but signs of their presence are easy to detect. In California, the most troublesome rats are two introduced species, the roof rat and the Norway rat. It’s important to know which species of rat is present in order to choose effective control strategies.
Rattus norvegicus, sometimes called brown or sewer rats, are stocky burrowing rodents that are larger than roof rats. Their burrows are found along building foundations, beneath rubbish or woodpiles, and in moist areas in and around gardens and fields. Nests can be lined with shredded paper, cloth, or other fibrous material. When Norway rats invade buildings, they usually remain in the basement or ground floor. Norway rats live throughout the 48 contiguous United States. While generally found at lower elevations, this species can occur wherever people live.
R. rattus, sometimes called black rats, are slightly smaller than Norway rats. Unlike Norway rats, their tails are longer than their heads and bodies combined. Roof rats are agile climbers and usually live and nest above ground in shrubs, trees, and dense vegetation such as ivy. In buildings, they are most often found in enclosed or elevated spaces such as attics, walls, false ceilings, and cabinets. The roof rat has a more limited geographical range than the Norway rat, preferring ocean-influenced, warmer climates. In areas where the roof rat occurs, the Norway rat might also be present. If you are unsure of the species, look for rats at night with a bright flashlight, or trap a few. The illustrations above show some of the key physical differences between the two species of rats, while Table 1 summarizes identifying characteristics.
Biology and Life Cycle
Rats, like house mice, are active mostly at night. They have poor eyesight, but they make up for this with their keen senses of hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Rats constantly explore and learn, memorizing the locations of pathways, obstacles, food and water, shelter, and features of their environment. They quickly detect and tend to avoid new objects and novel foods. Thus, they often avoid traps and baits for several days or more following their initial placement. While both species exhibit this avoidance of new objects, this neophobia is usually more pronounced in roof rats than in Norway rats.
Both Norway and roof rats can gain entry to structures by gnawing, climbing, jumping, or swimming through sewers and entering through toilets or broken drains. While Norway rats are more powerful swimmers, roof rats are more agile and are better climbers.
Norway and roof rats don’t get along. The Norway rat is larger and the more dominant species; it will kill a roof rat in a fight. When the two species occupy the same building, Norway rats may dominate the basement and ground floors, with roof rats occupying the attic or second and third floors. Contrary to some conceptions, the two species can’t interbreed. Both species can share some of the same food resources but don’t feed side by side. Rats can grab food and carry it off to feed elsewhere.
Rats of either species, especially young rats, can squeeze beneath a door with only a 1/2-inch gap. If the door is made of wood, the rat might gnaw to enlarge the gap, but this might not be necessary.
Norway rats eat a wide variety of foods but mostly prefer cereal grains, meats, fish, nuts, and some fruits. When searching for food and water, Norway rats usually travel an area of about 100 to 150 feet in diameter; seldom do they travel any further than 300 feet from their burrows or nests. The average female Norway rat has 4 to 6 litters per year and can successfully wean 20 or more offspring annually.
Like Norway rats, roof rats eat a wide variety of foods, but they prefer fruits, nuts, berries, slugs, and snails. Roof rats are especially fond of avocados and citrus, and they often eat fruit that is still on the tree. When feeding on a mature orange, they make a small hole through which they completely remove the contents of the fruit, leaving only the hollowed-out rind hanging on the tree. They’ll often eat the rind of a lemon, leaving the flesh of the sour fruit still hanging. Their favorite habitats are attics, trees, and overgrown shrubbery or vines. Residential or industrial areas with mature landscaping provide good habitat as does riparian vegetation of riverbanks and streams. Roof rats prefer to nest in locations off the ground and rarely dig burrows for living quarters if off-the-ground sites exist.
Roof rats routinely travel up to 300 feet for food. They can live in the landscaping of one residence and feed at another. They often can be seen at night running along overhead utility lines or fence tops. They have an excellent sense of balance and use their long tails to steady themselves while traveling along overhead utility lines. They move faster than Norway rats and are very agile climbers, which enables them to quickly escape predators. They can live in trees or in attics and climb down to a food source. The average number of litters a female roof rat has per year depends on many factors, but generally it is 3 to 5 with 5 to 8 young in each litter.
Rats eat and contaminate foodstuffs and animal feed. They also damage containers and packaging materials in which foods and feed are stored. Both rat species cause problems by gnawing on electrical wires and wooden structures such as doors, ledges, corners, and wall material, and they tear up insulation in walls and ceilings for nesting.
Norway rats can undermine building foundations and slabs with their burrowing activities and can gnaw on all types of materials, including soft metals such as copper and lead, as well as plastic and wood. If roof rats are living in the attic of a residence, they can cause considerable damage with their gnawing and nest-building activities. They also damage garden crops and ornamental plantings.
Among the diseases rats can transmit to humans or livestock are murine typhus, leptospirosis, salmonellosis (food poisoning), and ratbite fever.