Select Page

THE EARTH SHOW (Winter 2023) – “Earning the Jr. Rat Catcher’s Badge”

by | Jul 13, 2023 | Season 3, Wilderness Security Guide | 0 comments



Welcome to The Earth Show humans. I’m Wilderness Security Guide the Environmental Control Operator for STORYSOLD: Pest Control. This service story’s about the time we met our ideal customer. Her name is Katherine, and she engaged her Homefront in ways we imagine all future human hosts will engage the wilder sides of The Earth Show


In 2020-2021, we had roof rats in our attic. They were pretty quiet and we kept putting off dealing with them. This fall I found that Norway rats have displaced our roof rats in the attic. It was time to act, so we sealed up some of their holes, but left two major ones open. We planned to then launch a big trapping campaign, and finally seal the remaining holes. However, before actually doing this, I got worried that because we don’t know what we’re doing, we’ll set the traps in the wrong places and the rats will get wise and will be much harder to catch. Additionally I am suspicious that there are more entry holes at ground level that we haven’t been able to find. We wanted to find someone (you!) to help us identify ALL of the entry holes, and to set traps in a more effective way than we could do.

But, if you really wanted to know ALL of our rat interactions:

Our house is pretty ideal for rats. When we moved in December 2019, the property was overgrown with ivy, cave-forming shrubs, and bushes touching the house. The house is from the 1920s with hollow, inaccessible soffits, wood has shifted, and there is a superb choice of rodent entry holes, especially in the soffits.

When we moved in, I explored our attic crawlspaces & found plenty of evidence of previous rodent habitation and attempts to control it by trapping and poison. This included two dessicated Norway rat corpses, a rat skeleton (Figure 1), greasy tunnels in insulation, abundant feces, gnawed bait blocks, and sprung traps (one already supplied with a dried rat). Per our 91 year old neighbor, who is an excellent neighborhood historian, people living at our house have had trouble with rats for decades. (I have the impression that he attributes this to a deep-seated flaw in our house.)

Hoping that all this was evidence of FORMER rodent activity, all we did was to limit where food is stored (no food in garage, only canned goods in basement). We gradually altered our landscaping by removing ivy, trimming low hanging shrubs, and cutting shrubs away from the house, although there are still plenty of places for rats to hide and climb. Occasionally, we would hear tiny sounds in the attic, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead rats…

One morning in spring 2020, we found our dog and cat sniffing intently at the gap under a bookshelf in the living room. Underneath, a roof rat was cowering (and also peeing). We cautiously scooped him into a box and drove him ten blocks away, where we deposited him on an ivy-covered bank behind a big box retailer next to a piece of fried chicken that we happened to find nearby. (We know that if you move a rat away from its territory it will probably die. But we wanted to “give the rat a chance”.) This happened yet again a month later. This time, the rat was hiding in a small gap under a door, also cornered by dog & cat and unable to push his way through to the other side. We figured that these rats had probably fallen through a perfectly round, 7” hole in the living room ceiling. Covering this hole appeared to dam the cascade of roof rats into our living space, but they continued to live in the attic (why would they leave?)


A Squirrel in the Soffit

That same spring, I started to hear loud grinding noises while sitting upstairs. After also hearing some running in the attic crawlspace, I entered to see a good-sized rodent staring beadily at me. The source of the gnawing was soon pinpointed to our fascia board next to the chimney, where a greasy hole exhibited fresh gnaw marks. I believe this was a long-standing rat hole and that the uproar in the crawlspace was caused by a mother squirrel, who had discovered the rats’ front door and was in the process of improving the entryway and filling the hole with camelia leaves. I began to remove the leaves, but stopped when I saw a movement towards the back. Not wanting to wall up baby squirrels, but wanting to fill the hole as soon as possible, I co-opted one of our security cameras to monitor the nest. The mother squirrel never returned. When I eventually came back to remove the nest, there was no evidence of baby squirrels (not even droppings). Did the rats eat them? Did the mother squirrel succeed in removing the babies without triggering the camera? Were they never there at all? In any case, the camera was christened RatCam and soon began to provide excellent footage of roof rats entering and leaving our attic. The camera’s night vision gave the illusion that their eyes were glowing balls of light. You might think that we would have then filled the hole, and we always meant to, but we planned to find and fill the other holes first, then set traps. We did fill some holes, but then… we stopped. To be honest, I think we put it off because we both felt badly for the roof rats, who never bothered us in any way. Every once in a while I would talk to them when I entered the crawlspace for one reason or another, warning them not to gnaw the electrical wiring. This year another squirrel tried to use the hole for a nest, but she quit after I removed some of her sticks and rubbed my hands around the hole. We don’t have the camera up anymore, so I don’t know who is using the hole, although I continue to check it for squirrels.

On a hot day in 2021, we found a young roof rat in distress (Figure 3) under our garden hose not far from a hole referred to as the Great South Rodent Gate. I imagine that the crawlspaces had reached heatstroke temperatures for rats. We considered relocating the rat away from our house, but it didn’t seem fair to kick a rat when it was down, so instead we put down some water and left. Later, the rat was gone, either recovered or eaten.

A New Rat in Town?

Then this summer, things started to change. I found a dead juvenile Norway rat in our berry patch and was also seeing more dead ones around the neighborhood. I assume that Norway rat settlers were on the move, looking to expand. Our roof rats were no match for them. In the early fall we began to hear grating and grinding noises in the walls (like a rat enlarging a hole in wood, perhaps), and periodic running in the attic crawlspace. A new rat was in town. On two occasions I was able to actually see the rats after hearing them running, close enough to recognize that they are Norway rats. The only times I have seen them is when I hear some kind of noise in the crawlspace, then go investigate. Whenever I go up just to check things out, no rats are to be seen (though they leave plenty of signs that they’re there). I’m wondering whether they only become incautious enough to allow themselves to be seen when there’s some kind of social upheaval to distract them from the need to hide. When they do see me, they don’t run unless I start to approach them. They just kind of hunker down and glare in a manner that seems pretty bold to me. But perhaps they imagine that if they hold still, I won’t notice them?