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What is a roof rat?

If you’ve ever sat through a world history class, you’ve probably heard tales of the bubonic plague or “The Black Death.” At the root of this catastrophic pandemic that killed 25 million people is….the roof rat. At least partly. Researchers have attributed plague bacteria to fleas that black rats, or roof rats, carried around. The fleas bit infected rats and then transmitted the bacteria to humans. Luckily for us, modern medicine makes the probability of another “Black Death” very low.

Despite their relatively dismal and incriminating history, there is much more to know about roof rats. We explore some of the most common questions about these roof-scaling pests here. If you suspect you have a roof rat infestation in your home or business, contact Ehrlich right away. Our roof rat control specialists will eliminate the issue and help with prevention techniques to keep it from returning.

What is a roof rat?

Roof rats, also called black rats or ship rats, get their name from their propensity to gravitate toward roofs and upper parts of buildings. Originally thought to be from Southeast Asia, roof rats have spread around the world. They are particularly fond of coastal and tropical regions, especially in the southern third of the United States. Roof rats rarely live longer than one year, but females may give birth to as many as 40 babies in that time. Such rapid reproduction allows infestations to occur quickly.

Roof rat size and description

Roof rats are dark brown or black in color, often with a lighter underside. Their scaly tails are as long, if not longer than their bodies, collectively measuring around 16 inches or more. These rodents are generally long and thin with a pointed nose and large ears. Smaller roof rats may weigh as much as a billiard ball, while the larger ones can weigh about as much as a human heart.

roof rat on rafters

What do roof rats eat?

If they’re hungry enough, roof rats will eat just about anything. Given the option, however, they’d prefer seeds, nuts, and fruits. These rats will also feed on slugs, snails, or various insects for some extra protein. As nocturnal animals, roof rats like to eat at dusk and before the sun rises. They don’t like to eat just anywhere, though. Roof rats are a bit shy. They prefer to eat in a hidden environment. These rodents also have a reputation of being food hoarders, stashing away nuts and seeds to snack on later.

Where do roof rats live during the day?

As we mentioned, roof rats are nocturnal creatures, and like to hide away. Their favorite places to do so are in the upper parts of buildings, like attics and rafters. They may also nest within dense vegetation or wood piles. Roof rats both forage for food and nest in colonies, often seeking a safe shelter from predators or the elements. A little drywall or aluminum won’t stop them from doing so. As soon as they can gnaw a quarter-sized hole in these siding materials, roof rats will squeeze their way into garages, attics, sheds, etc. to find a nice, warm nesting site.

Norway rat vs. roof rat

Many people often confuse Norway rats and roof rats, but they are actually quite different. Roof rats are smaller than Norway rats, but Norway rats have a shorter tail. Norway rats are also lighter in color and prefer to hang out at ground level. Both rat species can carry similar diseases, but their destructive behaviors differ. Because Norway rats prefer the ground and roof rats prefer upper levels, their chewing and burrowing affect different areas. Norway rats often damage sidewalks, patios, and foundations, while roof rats traditionally damage walls, pipes, wires, and insulation.

what are roof rats

Do roof rats transmit disease?

Unless they feel threatened, roof rats do not generally seek out humans to attack. However, they are very unsanitary creatures, so they can carry various diseases such as rat-bite fever, salmonella, or even bubonic plague. Because they’re so filthy, the rats can easily contaminate food or food preparation surfaces merely by passing by. Roof rats may also gnaw their way into stored products in search of food, contaminating it along the way. These roof-dwelling rodents also often carry fleas that are disease vectors in their own right, spreading diseases like typhus.

Roof rat droppings

If you are having difficulty locating where these pests are coming from, here is a helpful, albeit unpleasant, way to do so. Look for the trail of dark brown banana-shaped feces they leave behind. The droppings are small but tend to be a lot larger than mouse feces. As mentioned, roof rats are extremely filthy animals and leaving their feces around your home is one of the main ways they spread disease and contaminate food.

How do roof rats get in the house?

Roof rats are the kind of creatures that will do anything to get away from predators and into your home. The determined pests are able to get into any structure that is larger than a nickel and get in by traveling through pipe tunnels and gnawing through wood, aluminum siding, and drywall. Of course, any cavities in your home’s structure are able to give full access to these pests.

How to get rid of roof rats with Ehrlich Pest Control

Roof rats in the attic can be a big issue for homeowners. To prevent a roof rat infestation, try these things:

  • Repair holes in window and door screens

  • Seal holes and cracks with caulk

  • Install door sweeps on exterior doors

  • Trim trees and shrubs away from the side of the building

  • Keep food in airtight containers, including pet food

  • Store firewood away from homes and businesses

  • Eliminate moisture sites such as leaky pipes, especially in attics and crawl spaces

Anti-pest net

If you are worried about roof rats on your property, give Ehrlich a call at 888-984-0186. The best way to get rid of roof rats is to call in the professionals. Our specialists will ensure that your property is rat-free and will help you make necessary adjustments to prevent roof rats from coming back.

Want to learn more about rats? Check out some of our other blogs:

The Essential Guide to Rats

Top 5 East Coast States for Rat Activity

What to look for in a rat control professional

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