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Roof rat sightings prompt renewed warnings

By: John Millar

Nov. 18, 2006

At least two Kyrene Corridor residents have reported spotting roof rats again this year, meaning the pesky critters may be considering a return to our neighborhoods.

If you want to discourage this recurring invasion of your yard, the time to act is now by eliminating food sources and potential shelter that are preferred by these pests.

Roof rats have been around a long time in the coastal areas of the U.S. They are thought to have migrated originally from Southeast Asia and were first sighted in the Phoenix Arcadia neighborhood in 2001.

Arcadia residents took an aggressive, unified approach to addressing the control of roof rats by implementing strategies that would help eliminate food sources and nesting places. The Arcadia Neighbor-to-Neighbor Campaign is outlined at the website

Roof rat characteristics

Size: Roof rat (black rat, ship rat) adult head-plus-body length is 6-8 inches; tail length is 7-10 inches. Weight is about 5-9 ounces, and can be as much as 12 ounces.

Characteristics: Soft, smooth fur; pointed muzzle; large eyes; large, almost naked ears, which can be pulled over the eyes. Scaly, dark tail is longer than combined head plus body length.

Color: Brown with black mixed in, to gray, to black on top with white; gray or black underside. Droppings: Adult droppings are up to a half inch long, and are spindle shaped with pointed ends.

Where found: In the U.S. Rattus rattus is most common in coastal and southern states, especially near seaports.
Habitat: Outdoors: roof rats nest in high places such as trees, but sometimes in burrows under plants. Indoors: they nest in high places in structures, but sometimes in basements, sewers or under buildings. They spend 90 percent of their lives four feet or more off the ground. They live in woodpiles, dense vegetation such as oleanders, attics and ceilings.
Food: Roof rats eat almost anything, but they prefer fruit, vegetables and cereal products. They get their water often from their food. They eat a lot at one time, and will return to that place time after time. If they do not like a food or bait they quickly become shy of it.
Biology: Roof rats mature in 2-5 months, and are adults for 9-12 months. Pregnancy takes 3 weeks. Newborns get hair after 1 week, open eyes after about two weeks, and are weaned at 3-4 weeks. Female has 4-6 litters per year, with 6-8 young per litter. They have keen hearing, smell, taste and touch (long whiskers), but bad vision, and are colorblind. They are good at running, climbing, jumping and even swimming. They are nocturnal and explore a lot, but are cautious and shy away from new objects. They travel during twilight and at night along power lines, trees and roofs.
Roof rats gnaw, eat stored food, and transmit disease by droppings and urine, bites and the fleas and mites in their fur. They can cause extensive damage by chewing on wiring and rubber hoses.

Invasion: An opening larger than a half inch allows entry of roof rats into buildings. They can enter a home through any opening larger than a nickel.

Roof rat prevention

 Use stucco diamond mesh to seal holes and vents leading into homes and sheds.

  Store bulk foods in sealed, rat-proof containers.

  Don't leave pet food or birdseed out, especially overnight.

  Promptly pick up any fallen fruit from citrus trees.

  Harvest citrus crops promptly and completely.

  Keep oleanders, woodpiles and yards cleaned and pruned.

  Keep dog feces picked up.

 Keep garbage container lids tightly closed.

Kyrene Corridor residents should report sightings to Maricopa County Environmental Services at (602) 506-6616 or . The online Roof Rat Reporting Form provides an easy way to notify county environmental officers.

Your neighborhood association also should be notified.


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