There are three species of rodents in Alabama that are known to live in close association with humans: the European house mouse (Mus musculus), Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus), and Black rats (Rattus rattus). The house mouse is the smallest – about 3” long from the tip to tail. Both species of rats are about 8” in length. Norway rats are known to burrow in the ground, and black rats are often found in attics and rooftops. These are very general characteristics, and it would not be at all improbably to find either one in the others predicted habitat. All three can potentially carry diseases such as hanta virus and plague and are generally considered to pose a health risk – especially if they are allowed to establish a large population.
Rodent populations around your home are likely to be underestimated. You will rarely see the culprit. You will likely see droppings or see where they have chewed on something like a feedbag or cereal box corner. If all you don’t see the rodents running about in daylight hours, your problem may not be that bad – yet. The populations grow very quickly. When there are many in one place, they will begin to forage in daylight hours with a little more boldness. When you see this, the problem is pretty bad.
Getting rid of unwanted rodents requires a three-pronged approach. The first step is to “rodent proof” your structure. This is very difficult because a house mouse only needs a 1/4” entryway. The rats only need ½” to make their way into your home. They will climb through pipes, make vertical jumps up to three feet high, and can fall from heights of up to fifty feet without injury. Plug holes that you find with sheet metal or tightly rolled “logs” of hardware cloth. The spray can yellow foam insulator from the hardware store will not work for excluding rodents. Ultrasonic sound emitters, if they work at all, will not work for long.
The second step to rodent control is to clean up the area. Secure all food items (cereal, grains, crackers, seeds) in rat proof containers. Clear away debris and secure any trash with tight lids. Rats will be attracted to water sources too, so if you have a dripping faucet or pipe, get it fixed! Piles of rags, cardboard, brush, or logs make a nice place for rodents to hide, so clean that up as well. Once the area is made less attractive for rodents, you are ready for step three.
The final step for a successful rodent control program is eradication. There are a few options for homeowners, but you may need to call in a licensed professional if the job is very big. If you trap rodents, you must be ready to empty the traps. If you poison them and they die in your attic, you must remove the bodies or they will begin to smell very quickly.
You can buy snap traps and glue boards at your local hardware store. They should also have a few options for poison and bait stations available. Follow the instructions carefully and read the warnings on the labels. As you place the traps or poison around your house, keep in mind that rodents have small “operating areas.” Rats do not range more than 100 sq. ft. from where they nest. House mice travel even less than that. They also do not range into open area. As they travel, they stay under cover as much as possible or run along the edges next to the wall. Place your traps and baits where they are likely to travel, and you should have some luck. If the problem is beyond what you can handle, find a pest control professional to come and finish the job. Do not try to “fumigate” rodents in your home. It is dangerous and unlikely to be effective unless the rats are in a small, confined, airtight space.