Are you getting your house ready for those guests who typically start arriving as soon as the weather cools off? Here’s one you might not have been expecting: Those gnawing, worrysome and always unwelcome critters who’d love to spend some time in your warm attic this winter: roof rats.
If you haven’t heard yet, they’ve raised their nasty heads again in our south Tempe and west Chandler neighborhoods. And if you don’t have them now, you likely will, because they’re reported to be on the move throughout the East Valley.
How did they get here? Roof rats love to eat the wires under your car’s hood, so some theorize they arrived in a car from some other part of the Valley. Others think they traveled here on block fences, power, telephone and cable lines, tree to tree and through oleander bushes.
Regardless of how these annoying creatures got here, experts say that homeowners need to act now because this is the time of year roof rats love to move inside to find their preferred nesting places in the warmer upper levels of your house and garage.
Residents of Estate La Colina held a homeowners meeting Oct. 24 at Estrada Park to discuss ways to keep the roof rat infestation from taking over. Barry Paceley, known as the Roof Rat Man of the Arcadia neighborhood where roof rats were first discovered in 2001, estimated our area neighborhoods are infested on a scale of 5 to 6 out of 10.
What this means is that we may be facing a problem that could take years to control unless everyone works together to eradicate these pesky, plague-carrying vermin. The good news is that if neighbors work now to get the rats under control, the infestation can be minimized. The bad news is that once roof rats have been detected in an area, residents have to remain forever vigilant because they will never totally disappear.
Paceley and his fellow Arcadians went public about their ongoing battle with roof rats troubling this once-stylish part of Scottsdale in 2001. Since then, he has devoted a major part of his life to limiting the damage created and infestation of these roof rats that originated in Southeast Asia and typically live along the coastal regions in the United States. The Phoenix area roof rats were probably brought here from California, Paceley suggests.
The roof rat measures anywhere from 13-18 inches, including its tail, and weights 5-9 ounces. Roof rats prefer to live four feet or more off the ground. They are dark brown to black, slender, and as a neighbor advised, “really cute.”
Paceley agrees, though reservedly.
“They are cute with little bright eyes, little whiskers, little ears,” he said. “But when that cute animal is chewing up your alarm system or dying somewhere in your wall and you have to pay someone to tear out your drywall to get rid of the odor, then the cuteness fades really fast.”
In order for Kyrene Corridor neighborhoods to control this roof rat infestation on a long-term basis, every homeowner needs to take these four basic steps to implement measures to rid their property of roof rats.
Inspect your property for possible signs of roof rats. Look for citrus that is hollowed out, along with cylindrical droppings, gnaw marks on your house or trees, live or dead rats and rodent odors.
“I first realized I had roof rats when I was enjoying a moonlit night in my back yard under one of my citrus trees,” said Mark Zener.
“Little pieces of something started to fall all around me. A roof rat was sitting on a branch over my head eating one of my blood oranges and could care less if I was sitting right below him.”
Also inspect your attic and garage for signs of roof rat invasion. If you store a motorhome or boat on your property, also check to see if roof rats are living there and gnawing on the hoses and wiring. Roof rats will gnaw on anything to keep their front teeth from growing too long.
Roof rats can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter. Usually you can tell if your attic has been invaded by checking your insulation for nesting. Also look for gnawing on any exposed wiring. Many times people first realize they have roof rats when they hear them at night in their attic or garage.
“It sounded like someone was dancing on my ceiling,” said one person at the La Colina meeting.
“I heard them trying to get into my chimney,” said another neighbor.
Inspecting your property will give you a better idea of the extent of your roof rat population and the routes these rats take on your property. You will need to intercept the roof rats with traps and non-toxic bait near these routes. Finding the routes roof rats take will influence where you place your bait and live traps.
Clean up your property by getting rid of anything that will keep rats from flourishing in your neighborhood. Roof rats need food, water and easy access to a cozy nesting site. You can reduce or remove them from your property by taking the following steps:
1. Clean up outside nesting places like woodpiles, palm trees and dense vegetation, especially Oleanders which provide a safe refuge and an ideal path of travel.
2. Promptly pick up any fallen fruit from citrus trees and pick your citrus crops immediately and completely. Citrus is a roof rat’s main source of water in the Arizona heat. Some experts suggest you completely pick your citrus now even if it is green because roof rats will still eat the fruit.
3. Do not leave pet food out, especially overnight. Roof rats typically eat fresh fruit, plant materials, nuts and seeds, vegetables and tree bark. Bird feed is a feast for them. Their favorite is cat food when they can find it.
4. Keep all garbage containers tightly covered and pick up any dog droppings every day.
5. Store bulk food in sealed, rat-proof containers that may be in your garage or outside.
6. Check for standing water from irrigation or sprinklers. Do not leave pet water dishes outside at night. Roof rats need four ounces of water a day to survive if they don’t get moisture from citrus fruit.
Your goal in cleaning up your property is to take away nesting places. By removing possible food sources you are taking away easy access to tasty meals so roof rats are more attracted to your baited traps.
“I have not caught one roof rat in my traps,” said one La Colina homeowner. “I now realize they didn’t need to go near my traps because the rats had an entire tree full of citrus to pick from.”
Seal your house from invasion before it gets any colder by covering any holes half an inch or larger with quarter-inch or smaller steel mesh, or fill them in with cement. Make it impossible for them to enter by inspecting and repairing air vents. Check to make sure you don’t have roof rats in your attic first because a dead rat can really smell up the entire house.
Reduce your roof rat population with snap traps and/or bait traps. Roof rats aren’t that bright but they are smart enough to be wary of traps, so you need place your traps in their path of travel and be patient. Bait your snap traps with peanut butter or cat foot tied on with a little dental floss. Place the trap inside a shoe box with a small hole, about two inches in diameter, in one of the bottom corners. Place this shoe box in one of the roof rats’ primary areas and tape the lid closed.
It is better to use this type of trap if you find roof rats in your attic because you can properly dispose of them and not have to suffer the smell of a dead rat. Check the trap about every other day and dispose of dead rats in a plastic bag. Traps can be purchased for under $3 each and used over and over again.
You can also purchase for around $5, or make yourself, a cylinder-type trap out of PVC pipe, to use bait to control roof rats. Roof rat bait can be purchased for less than $5 and comes in a big rectangular bar that can be broken into four large squares and placed inside the trap.
It takes about 3-5 days for the bait to work once the rat has eaten it. This type of trap has a small hole at one end so cats and other animals cannot get in.
It is recommended that you use duct tape to fasten this type of bait trap on the top of your block walls or mount them horizontally in a citrus tree. Extensions are included to help you hang this trap in your tree. You will need to check your traps regularly to make sure they still contains a large-sized piece of bait.
Call an exterminator if you are unable to do or prefer not to take steps to get rid of roof rats yourself. Calls to several pest control companies provided quotes anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000, depending on the amount of roof rat infestation.
Some people swear that cats are the best method to get rid of roof rats. Others have used something called a Rat Zapper that zaps rats dead using battery-powered electricity. You use cat or dog food for bait. When the Zapper shows you have killed a rat, you take it over to the garbage can and dump it out. No touch, no fuss, or so the ad claims. You can find the Rat Zappers on eBay, Amazon.com and from other Internet sources for about $40 each.
More information and detailed help can be found at Paceley’s , the Roof Rat Man, website http://www.roofrat.net . You can also contact him if you would like him to appear at a meeting in your neighborhood.