DTY Rodent Management
Living Among Rats
How rats navigate the world around us


For more than 10,000 years humans have coexisted with rats, but for the past 1,000 years there’s been an ongoing commensal war where public health is always on the line. The roof rat (Rattus rattus) and Norway rat (R. norvegicus) are genomes with thousands of years of niche evolution.

Humans and rats have a lot in common, such as their physiology, nervous system, digestive system, immunology and hormones. Although not identical, human and rat genetic structures have evolved along similar lines. For research, the rat serves as a lab stand-in.

Here are several different behaviors that distinguish their species from ours — and give them the ability to thrive.

  • New-object reaction: This term defines how rats generally avoid small and harmless novel objects and/or familiar objects moved to a novel position.1
  • High behavioral flexibility: The exploratory behavior of roof rats in a fluctuating environment depends on the proportion of current risks and benefits.2 Exploratory behavior is often subjected to objects of different types or with different properties.2 In populations of roof rats living in close proximity of humans, this pressure is further increased by pest management.2 It’s hypothesized that the roof rat responds to this pressure by either high behavioral flexibility or by development of personality types.2 In other words, introducing stressors to its environment is going to make the rat act differently than before.
  • You seeing one means there are 10: In many cases, rats reside near people and facilities. Humans create hospitable environments for roof rat behavioral exploitation through the creation of rail lines, rail cars, tractor trailers, shipments, vegetation bridges, roof and subterranean utilities, wire and cable lines, dock plates and receiving doors, drainage waste and vents, and delayed maintenance issues — just to name a few. Experts suggest that for every rat observed at night, multiply by 10.
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Following widespread closures of food-related businesses due to efforts to curtail the spread of COVID-19, public health authorities reported increased sightings of rats in close vicinity of people.3 Hotspots were observed in proximity of closed foodservice establishments.3

Due to roof rat behavior, applied pest management decisions are largely based upon inspection or observational evidences (inhabitant testimony and biological residues) or behavioral snapshots. The standard "three lines of defense" (campus fence-line, structural perimeter and interior perimeter sanitation lines) are generally a successful industry standard of care, but not an intervention based upon animal behavioral snapshots.

There are more than 7,000 rodent trap patents, with the first issued circa 1858. The first snap trap was patented circa 1886. Since then, applied pest management technology has rapidly advanced, and now pest management professionals (PMPs) not only possess a detailed understanding of rat biology and behavior, but command an emerging standard of practice of observational and behavioral based rodent trapping through hybridization of virtual, real-time smart camera device surveillance and remote sensing smart trap devices. PMPs domesticate the shadows, corners and structural guidelines or lines and edges that cryptobiotic rats behaviorally habituate by deploying hybridized remote sensing smart systems within these high activity areas.

Rat control is not only about chasing rats, it’s also about changing human behavior. However, rats have attitude in common with humans — as they know what they want and how to get it. Rats are extreme opportunists, and are very clever. Possibly what we hate most about rats may be their ability to be like us. Now, we can be like them, virtually living among rats, and making unprecedently effective control decisions in real time.

1 J. Vet. Med. Sci. 79 (4): 702–708, 2017
2 Journal of Comparative Psychology 2017, 131 (2): 150-162
3 medRxiv 2020.07.05.20146779; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.05.20146779

Stuart Mitchell, DO, DVM, PsyD, BCE, is an entomologist, veterinarian, observing physician and consulting clinical psychologist, and a regular contributor to Pest Management Professional's Direct to You series.

PMP’s Direct To You provides pest management professionals with educational refreshers on timely and critical topics essential to operational success. This content is not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice where you live. Look for the content-rich PMP Direct To You archives at mypmp.net/direct-to-you-archive.

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