Of all the things to ask about the Sunshine State, you want to know what kind of rats are in Florida? Florida is known for so many things. Things like beautiful beaches, amazing wildlife, oranges, some of the strangest news but rats? It’s actually a great question!
While the question is “what kind of rats are in Florida?”, I find the most common form of that question is “what kind of rats do I have in Florida?” The answer is almost always, you have roof rats. Roof rats(Rattus rattus) are by far the most common rat people encounter in Florida. In second place is the Norway rat(Rattus Norvegicus) and in a distant third place is the least common, woodrat(Neotoma floridana).
With over 30 years of experience as a professional rat trapper, I feel like there have been times I have rats coming out of my ears! I have expertly removed rats from stadiums, school, airplane hangars, and even an airplane and Coast Guard cruiser ship!
When it comes to rats, there are many that live in North America however, there are only two kinds that really cause any serious problems. Most pest management professionals will never encounter any rats other than Norway and roof rats.
[Roof Rats] Without question, the most common rat in Florida is the roof rat. It seems as though we have roof rats everywhere! I always laugh when someone calls Creepy Creatures Termite and Pest Control describing hearing scratching and chewing in the ceiling. When I tell them it sounds like they have rats they reply “Oh no, we don’t have rats around here!”
Often times the conversation goes like this:
Caller: I think it is a squirrel.
Me: Do you hear it at night?
Me: You have rats.
Caller: No, I see squirrels all over my yard. It’s squirrels. I grew up on a farm (more on this later).
Me: We have way more rats than we do squirrels. If you hearing them at night, you most likely have rats.
Caller: But I never see rats; I really think it is squirrels.
Me: Squirrels are active at night. Rats are active and night and they are very reclusive. Most people have no idea how many rats live in their neighborhood. You would be flabbergasted-yes, flabbergasted.
Caller: But I only see the squirrels on my bird feeder.
Me: Inside I am screaming “A bird feeder??? A bird feeder???”. But I calmly tell them that if they could see the bird feeder at night they would see that it is actually quite active with rats.
At this point, we suggest coming out to do a free inspection where we will find points of entrance and an abundance of rat droppings in the attic.
I veered off topic a touch but this highlights the mass infestation we have of roof rats in Florida. Roof rats live in nearly every neighborhood, on farms, and in the large cities. Compared to Norway rats, roof rats do well in warmer climates, often sticking more to coastal areas.
Roof rats are also commonly called:
- Fruit rat
- Citrus rat
- Black rat
- Attic rat
- Palm rat
Regardless of what they are commonly called, they are all Rattus rattus. As their name implies, roof rats are excellent climbers and love to live in attics. Roof rats will find their way into attics via a/c chases running up the side of homes as well as soffits and eaves.
Once in the attics, they leave their droppings everywhere, they urinate throughout as to mark their territory as well as their trails and they chew. Not only will they chew on wood, but they will also chew on wires and ductwork too. Roof rats will ruin an attic.
[Norway Rats] Norway rats occur in Florida though they are not as common as the roof rat. However, Norway rats are the famous rat. Norway’s are the ones that people most often brag about as being as large as cats or small dogs. Which, by the way…is not true.
Norway rats get big, they get really big. In fact, their body can get up to 8” long and they can weigh 16 ounces. For a rat, this is big. But it cannot compare to a cat or a small dog.
Often times when describing the size of a Norway rat a person will hold out their hands a couple of feet apart. A naive onlooker may believe the rat in question is 24 inches long when really, the body may be 8 inches, the tail may be another 7 inches and other 9 inches is added for good measure, a trick perfected by many a fisherman.
If in doubt, an easy way to tell the difference between Norway rats and roof rats is to pull the tail up to the nose of the rat. It’s best that the rat be incredibly tame or dead. If the tail reaches or exceeds the nose of the rat, you have a roof rat. If the tail will not reach the nose, you have a Norway rat.
Norway rats can thrive just about anywhere where you have people, even in the harshest of climates.
If you are in the Northern areas such as Chicago, New York, etc. and you see rats, it’s a pretty safe bet that you are seeing Norway rats. If you are seeing rats that you want to compare to cats or small dogs, you are most likely seeing Norway rats. However, keep in mind, this is your imagination, as we discussed, they are not the size of cats or small dogs 🙂
[Wood Rats] Unlike roof rats and Norway rats, Woodrats are native to Florida. Woodrats are located from the Central United States down into Central Florida.
Woodrats are also called “packrats” because of their tendency to build large, bulky nests often used by multiple generations of rats. It is common to find woodrats nesting alongside humans, especially where things may be a bit quiet such as cottages sitting empty for the winter.
While woodrats live in Florida, they are more known for being a pest to our friends more in the North.
But as with most rodents that live with humans, they can carry and spread disease as well as chew on wires, causing house fires.
In some areas, woodrats may be considered “Commensal rodents”, meaning the often live around people and actually thrive around people. There would be regional considerations as to just how “commensal” the woodrat really is. If you are a pest professional in Arizona, you would be quite familiar with the woodrat, or more commonly known as the “pack rat”. If you asked a pest professional in most of Florida about a woodrat or a pack rat, they very likely would not have any idea what you are talking about.
The history of the Norway and roof rat is often debated amongst biologist however, they do seem to agree, at some point they came over from Europe via ships, perhaps as far back as the early settlers. Going back even farther, it is likely that the Norway rat began in Northern China while the roof rat originally came from India. Today, they are spread all over the world with a just a few exceptions such as Antarctica.
Rats are one, if not the biggest pest in the word as well as being one of the most common vectors for disease. Many consider rats cute and cuddly, for others, rats are the thing of nightmares. Regardless, rats are not our friends.
- What is the best way to trap rats?
- The #1 choice for rat trapping professionals are Victor snap traps. Another great, but pricey trap is Good Nature trap at or just under $200.
- What do rats eat?
- Rats are opportunistic omnivores, meaning they will eat just about anything that is edible. Generally speaking though, roof rats prefer sweet food and Norway rats prefer proteins. However, both Norway and roof rats will typically go for peanut butter on a rat trap.
- Does poison make rats thirsty so they go outside for water and die?
- No. There absolutely no truth to the old wife’s tale that poison makes rats thirsty so they go outside for water and die. Quite often, they will curl up in their nest and die.
There is also no poison that makes rats conveniently dry up and “mummify” so they do not smell. The body will bloat and smell. Flies will find the dead rat and lay eggs. The eggs turn into maggots, the maggot eats the dead rat. When everything is eaten, they maggots pupate, hatch, turn into flies and fly away…leaving a musty smelling, dried carcass. Depending on conditions, this will take approximately 2 weeks.