The roof rat also known as the black rat, house rat, tree rat, citrus rat, and ship rat is one of the most well-known rodents for destruction.

The black rat 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.

Where Do Roof Rats Live During the Day?

A roof rat spends most of the day sleeping in its nest. These rodents are nimble climbers and live in high places like attics or above drop ceilings. If residents notice a roof rat during the day, it could point to the presence of a larger population just out of sight.

Where Do Roof Rats Live?

Roof rats are arboreal and prefer to nest in dense vegetation like shrubbery, ivy-covered walls, and overgrown vegetation provide suitable hiding places for roof rats. They can especially be a problem for citrus farmers in Florida as fruit trees are a popular roof rat nest location.

In homes, roof rats live in elevated areas like attics, overhead storage spaces, soffits, and the roof. Since roof rats can have multiple nests, removing one is no guarantee that the problem is resolved. Hidden rats living in wall voids and hollow ceilings can continue an infestation even after all the visible nests are gone.

Do Roof Rats Burrow Under Houses?

In areas with temperate climates, these rodents do not normally dig tunnels. They prefer to build nests among tree branches or use utility lines to access a roof or attic.

However, in a hot, dry environment, roof rats burrow in shallow cavities beneath concrete slabs, sidewalks, or tree roots.

Excellent Climbers

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 rat 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.

Blind and hairless at birth, roof rat babies develop quickly. By the time they’re three weeks old, the rats leave the nest to forage for food. A single roof rat baby can contaminate several packages of pantry goods with its fur, urine, and feces. Young are almost impossible to trap until they are at least four weeks old.

After three months, baby roof rats gain complete freedom from their mothers. As adults, they spread diseases, stain walls with grease, and gnaw constantly to file down their ever-growing teeth. When the pests nest in wall voids and chew on wires, they can cause electrical shorts and even fires.

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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