Saturday, July 23, 2016

Rats #5: Rat behavior

I found that learning about rat behavior and habits particularly helpful as I tried to understand, outsmart, outgun and defeat the critters living under our chicken coop.

Norway rats (most likely the type we have) are primarily nocturnal. They usually become active about dusk, when they begin to seek food and water. Some may be active during daylight hours when rat populations are high. In our case, we believe we only had two. Consistent with normal behavior, neighbor Matt said that he saw our duo of rat squatters from his kitchen window in the evening.

Rats have poor eyesight (and they’re nocturnal, evolution is a joker) relying more on their hearing and their excellent senses of smell, taste and touch. They are considered color-blind. Therefore, for safety reasons, baits can be dyed distinctive colors without causing avoidance by rats. The baits we bought are green, I’d make them blaze (hunter) orange.

Rats use their keen sense of smell to locate food items and to recognize other rats. Their sense of taste is excellent, and they can detect some contaminants in their food at levels as low as 0.5 parts per million. That’s freaky good, kinda like a supertaster.

Norway rats usually construct nests in below-ground burrows or at ground level. In our case, the burrow was under the storage area of our coop. 

One of the many openings to the underground burrow within the run of our chicken coop.
Nests may be lined with shredded paper, cloth, or other fibrous material. Litters of six to 12 young are born 21 to 23 days after conception. Newborn rats are hairless and their eyes are closed, but they grow rapidly. They can eat solid food at two and a half to three weeks. They become completely independent at about three to four weeks and reach reproductive maturity at three months of age.

Females may come into heat every four or five days, and they may mate within a day or two after a litter is born. Breeding often peaks in spring and fall, with reproductive activity declining during the heat of summer and often stopping completely in winter, depending on habitat. These seasonal trends are most pronounced in more severe climates. The average female rat has four to six litters per year and may successfully wean 20 or more offspring annually.

Studies indicate that during daily activities, a rat normally travels an area averaging 100 to 150 feet in diameter. Rats seldom travel farther than 300 feet from their burrows to obtain food or water. Rats constantly explore and learn about their environment, memorizing the locations of pathways, obstacles, food and water, shelter, and other elements in their domain. They quickly detect and tend to avoid new objects placed into a familiar environment. Thus, objects such as traps and bait stations often are avoided for several days or more following their initial placement.

Knowing all of this can be helpful when planning a rat removal or extermination program.

Rats #9: Good riddance at The Eggplant

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