By Mary Leigh Oliver, Auburn University
As temperatures continue to drop, the warm indoors entice unwanted guests and pests. Rats and mice may make a surprise appearance this holiday season.
Not only do rats and other rodents cause fright, but they can also harm humans by spreading disease, destroying property or even biting. By understanding the species and following these simple steps, the home can remain merry, bright and rodent-free.
Bence Carter, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System forestry, wildlife and natural resources regional agent, said to keep a rodent-free home, it is important to be familiar with the typical rodent types. The most common rodents seen around homes include roof rats, Norway rats and house mice. These rodents are “commensal,” meaning they live near humans. Whether homeowners have encountered rodents or not, it is best to make the home rodent proof before it becomes a problem. Rats and mice will find any means necessary to enter a house.
“They can climb wires, cables, siding, vines or trees to enter a house,” Carter said. “Rats and mice can gnaw through most materials if the surface is rough or has an edge.”
The first step to successfully rodent-proof the home is to block all potential entrance holes.
“Rats can enter buildings through holes as small as ½ an inch, whereas mice can enter ¼-inch openings,” he said.
Using secured sheet metal is the best method to cover all openings. Also, sheet metal cones or guards on pipes and cables help to prevent rats or mice from climbing them.
As with most rodents, the easiest way to prevent them is to keep the home properly cleaned.
“Poor sanitation is what often attracts rat and mice in the first place,” Carter said. “Remove all trash and litter from the area and place in a rodent-proof container.”
Typically, if all openings are properly covered and the home is sanitized, the use of rodenticides or traps is not as necessary. However, if there is already a rodent problem or if feces are found around the home, it’s best to address the problem immediately. Traps or rodenticides are common solutions to manage rodent problems. Before choosing to use a rodenticide, consider if any humans, pets or non-target species may come into contact with the poison. Also, make sure to always follow the instructions on the rodenticide.
“Many different types and preparations of rodenticides are effective,” he said. “Your specific situation dictates which one is best to use.”
According to Carter, there are two main types of rodenticides: single-doses and multiple-dose. Where rat or mouse numbers are large and a quick reduction in population is desired, sing-dose rodenticides are recommended. Multiple-dose rodenticides will take four to five days to kill the rodent after it takes the first bite. While multiple-dose rodenticides may take longer, Carter says they are the safer of the two poisons.
To further protect non-target species, place rodenticides inside bait stations.
“Bait stations protect rodenticides from moisture, dust and weather,” Carter said. “They also prevent other animals from accessing the bait, while making the rodent feel more secure.”
Place bait stations in areas of high rodent activity, typically between the rodent’s shelter and food supply.
“Bait stations do not have to be elaborate structures,” he said. “Simply nail flat boards at an angle to the wall.”
Sticking to an old classic, traps are another alternative to poison. Common snap traps are most effective when rat numbers are low.
“Traps can be baited with a plethora of different food items; however, peanut butter adheres best to the trap trigger,” Carter said.
Place traps for roof rats along beams, rafters or other travel ways. For Norway rats or house mice, place the traps under cabinets or next to a wall.
Unfortunately, keeping a rodent-free home often takes more than a single step solution. By following these simple instructions, homes can remain rodent-free throughout the holidays and new year. For more information, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.