At one time, pack rats, also known as the American Rat, were the dominant rats in North America. The rat of movies, big cities, and pet shops is the Norway Rat, an animal introduced by way of the Mayflower. Resembling a large gerbil, pack rats are very different animals than Norway rats. Although they can be found in most states coast to coast, in Arizona pack rats are still the dominant urban rat.
In Arizona, pack rats live primarily in the desert under fallen cactus and debris piles. They will burrow under a cactus (usually prickly pear or cholla) killing the roots, causing the cactus to collapse above them. This creates a prickly armored home that is relatively safe from mammal and bird predators.
Packrats have the peculiar habit of “trading” for interesting things that they find in their travels. If they find a coin, piece of pottery or a button, they will pick it up but leave something in return, like a twig or acorn. Most likely, it is more out of practicality. They are carrying something already, see something different and drop what they have to get their new treasure—trading up. Paleontologists make it part of their research to explore packrat nests, which may survive for generations, to find out about human history, collecting artifacts dating back to before the civil war.
Problems occur as humans move into packrat habitat. As we have expanded into the desert areas, we have encroached on their habitat creating new opportunities for these highly adaptable rodents. Parked cars and motorhomes have a number of well-protected cavities already suitable for nesting. These areas are cluttered with insulation and wires, closely resembling the nests that the rats would build for themselves. The wires are similar to roots, which they would naturally gnaw to make space, to use for nesting material and to “kill the cactus” or in this case your vehicle. They will even carry cactus pieces up into the engine compartment, trunk or passenger compartment to make it homier. Crawl spaces, attic spaces, cluttered garages, and sheds also create nesting areas.
Rats are scavengers and will adapt to feeding on garbage, dog food or a garden. Active at night, many Arizona residents have been awakened in the night by their running, chewing and thumping on a bedroom floor or ceiling. Needing a hole only the size of a nickel, they enter wall voids and make themselves home. Being very shy, they may live in a home for years without the owner ever seeing them. In a home, these rats can cause serious problems, ripping up the seals on garage doors, damaging furnaces, and hot water heaters, ripping up insulation, disabling alarm systems and chewing on wiring, possibly causing fires.
Another problem associated with packrats is the parasites that feed on them. A fierce and large biting insect called a “Kissing Bug” is found in their nests. Attracted to carbon dioxide, this bug gets its name from its tendency to bite humans in the face while they are sleeping. Known to carry disease, in addition to a painful bite, and inducing a severe allergic reaction, they can fly and are attracted to lights at night. Even if you have no packrat nests on your property, bright outdoor lights at night can attract them to your home from the desert. Any packrat elimination program should include addressing the Kissing Bugs.
Packrat control is complicated and requires experience and skill. First, the habits of the animal(s) must be determined and they must be trapped or baited. After removal, the home must be rodent proofed to prevent re-infestation. Kissing Bugs must be treated and the nests removed. It is not unusual to remove hundreds or even thousands of pounds of nesting material from a single packrat nest. Once the animals and nests are removed, it creates a vacancy that other packrats will look to fill. A prevention program must be put in place. Packrat control is hard work, smelly, dangerous and full of cactus spines! It is best left to professionals.
Call us today to find solutions to your packrat problems. In Tucson, call 886-4146. Statewide, call (520) 886-4146.