Pack rats (also called a trade rat or wood rat) are prevalent in the deserts and highlands of western U.S. and northern Mexico. They also inhabit parts of the eastern U.S. and Western Canada. You can identify pack rats from typical rats as they are a little smaller and have long, sometimes bushy tails.
Pack rats build complex nests of twigs, called "middens", often incorporating cactus. Nests are often built in small caves, but frequently also in the attics and walls of houses. Some species use the base of a prickly pear or cholla cactus as the site for their home, utilizing the cactus' spines for protection from predators. Others will appropriate the burrows of ground squirrels or kangaroo rats and fortify the entrance with sticks and bits of spiny cactus stems fallen from chollas.
In houses, pack rats are active nocturnally, searching for food and nest material. A peculiar characteristic is that if they find something they want, they will drop what they are currently carrying, for example a piece of cactus, and "trade" it for the new item. They are particularly fond of shiny objects, leading to tales of rats swapping jewelry for a stone. They can also be quite vocal and boisterous, sounding at times as if a "family rift" is taking place. Historically, houses in or near ghost towns were typically infested with pack rats.
Pack rats are known for their characteristic searching of materials to bring back to their nests creating an ever expanding collection known as a ‘midden’ for its messiness. In natural environments, the middens are normally built out of sticks in rock crevices or caves for protection from predators. In the absence of crevices or caves, the middens are often built under trees or bushes. The vast majority of the materials will be from a radius of several dozen yards of the nest. The pack rats urinate in the midden; sugar and other substances in the urine crystallize as it dries out, cementing the midden together. After a few decades, the rats will abandon the midden and move on to start a new nest.
If you think you are in need of pack rat control or need help to identify pack rat problems contact your local Critter Control office. Our Critter Control pack rat removal specialist can safely implement pack rat removal methods such as pack rat trapping. Our pack rat control services can help get rid of pack rats and prevent future pack rat damage.
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