The roof rat is becoming one of the most well-known rodents for destruction. Many people think of the black rat when discussing the roof rat, but there are three sub-species of roof rats, each with different fur colors. The three subspecies include the black, Alexandrine, and fruit rats.

The most common roof rat is the black rat. It has smooth hair, large ears, a pointy nose, and a tail longer than its body. While its body is black, its belly is gray. The Alexandrine rat appears gray, but its fur is agouti, meaning there is more than one color on each strand of hair. You may also see brown and yellow blends of fur. The fruit rat is agouti on its back but white on its belly.

No matter the subspecies, roof rats, including their tail, are usually no longer than 16 inches long.

Nocturnal Activity

Roof rats are nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night. As soon as the sun goes down, roof rats start foraging for food and sometimes travel several hundred feet seeking food to eat and store. They like to hoard the food they find so that they can access it at any time.

Roof rats prefer to eat in spots where they feel sheltered or hidden.


Roof rats are agile and like to climb anything, including pipes, trees, and chimneys. They can swing between rafters and are able to jump up to four feet of distance, making moving from rooftops to trees to other structures easy for these animals. You may spot one running along fences, utility wires, and roof ledges.


Roof rats adapt well to new environments and are very intelligent. They notice when something new is placed in their living area and will avoid it, a behavior known as neophobia. They can purposely set off a mouse trap while stealing the bait and evading capture. All their senses are keen, and they use them to find food, protect themselves, escape predators, travel to new places, and reproduce. Roof rats use their long tails for balance.

Social Behavior

You likely won’t see them, but colonies of roof rats may consist of ten or more rodents. If you happen to see a roof rat during the day, it may be because the colony is too big, and they can’t all fit in the nesting area simultaneously. Socially, roof rats will segregate themselves, forming a hierarchy where the more dominant ones get the better living area and food. The less dominant roof rats get the leftover food and nesting areas.

Roof rats only live for one year, but in that time, they can reproduce at least three times. Females have between five to eight pups per litter. One female roof rat can produce fifteen babies a year. Each female pup is ready for breeding within three months after birth, so a colony will continue to grow.

Roof Rat Diet

More roof rats mean it takes more food to feed them. Roof rats are omnivores, meaning they eat almost anything, including plants and animals. They would likely choose fruit, nuts, and seeds over other foods if given a choice. They don’t travel more than 300 feet from their nests for food, so if they can access pet or human food, bird seed, or leftovers in the garbage, they will take what they can back to their hiding spots.

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