No need for a calendar to tell you that spring has arrived. Days are longer and warmer, trees are bursting with brilliant blossoms and tiny leaves are emerging from vegetable seeds you carefully planted last month. Along with the wonders of the season are the challenges – weeds, insect pests, and maybe even rats! Before reaching for the weed killer, bug spray, or rat poison, DON’T! Instead, Stop. Think. Protect. Ready-to-use pesticide products have one thing in common – they’re poisons, intended to kill a particular kind of creature, be it plant or animal. In the process, they can hurt more than the target pest – sometimes, much more!
When you have any type of pest problem:
- Stop – before taking any action.
- Think – understand the problem you are trying to solve.
- Protect – find solutions, starting with the least toxic method.
Think you might have a rat problem? The pitter-patter of little feet across the roof at dusk or dawn, birdseed that disappears overnight, holes in food packaging, chewed electrical wires, or trails of large comma-shaped droppings – all are indicators of rats. As they’re generally creatures of the night, staying hidden to avoid predators, if you see them during the day, you likely have a major problem.
Two non-native types call Marin home – roof rats and Norway rats. Roof rats are agile climbers and usually live and nest above ground in shrubs, trees (they particularly like palms), and dense vegetation such as ivy, honeysuckle, and blackberries.
Norway rats burrow along building foundations, beneath rubbish or woodpiles, and moist areas in and around gardens and fields. Indoors, they usually frequent the ground floor or the basement.
Rats eat nearly any type of food – fruits, nuts, pet and bird food, fresh grain, meat, and fish, even slugs and snails. Their powerful teeth can gnaw through plastic garbage cans, electrical wires, doors, walls, and insulation. Burrowing types can undermine building foundations and slabs, damage garden crops and ornamental plantings. Rats can also transmit diseases to humans or livestock.
How can you keep rats from becoming a problem? Prevention!
- Clean it up – harvest or pick up fruit, nuts, and vegetables as they ripen; feed your pets during daylight and remove uneaten food right away. Keep garbage and recycling cans covered, and store bulk foods, bird seed and dry pet food in rat-proof, covered metal containers.
- Take away their home – Remove garden debris, trim trees, shrubs, and vines so they are at least four feet away from roofs and utility poles; thin heavy vegetation from around buildings or fences to eliminate hiding places.
- Keep them out – seal openings the size of a dime or larger using rodent-proof materials where pipes, cables and wires enter walls and foundations. Weather-strip front, side, and garage doors so they close tightly and repair damaged ventilation screens.
If you have a current problem, and need to eliminate rats:
- Trap them – large snap traps are inexpensive, can be used repeatedly and are environmentally sound. Don’t use glue traps – they cause a slow and painful death to any creature that touches it.
- Encourage predators – provide habitat for barn owls (nesting boxes) to promote natural rodent control.
- Don’t use rat poison! Why is using poison bait a bad idea?
- Rat poisons don’t just kill rodents – they also kill or seriously injure the animals that eat rats and mice, like hawks, owls, foxes, raccoons and skunks, the natural predators that can keep rat populations in check.
- Rat poisons can be consumed by pets and other wildlife that are attracted to the tasty flavorings used to make the poisons (like fish oil, molasses, or peanut butter).
- Rat poisons, some with bright colors, can appeal to curious young children and their desire to stick everything in their mouths making the risk of accidental poisoning a danger for kids.
- Rat poisons don’t kill rats instantly, allowing them to travel back to their hiding places (that might be in your walls) and die there.
- Rat poisons may get rid of the current problem, but it doesn’t eliminate the conditions that attracted them in the first place.
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