Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ban winter rodents from your home

Fall is near. Leaves are turning colors. Squirrels are storing nuts, and mice and rats are looking for the best way to get into your home for the winter. A University of Georgia wildlife expert says your home doesn’t have to become a rodent resort.

“Mice and rats can enter your house through openings as small as a dime,” said Michael Mengak, a UGA Cooperative Extension specialist with the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. “Closing their entry holes is one of the most effective ways to prevent mice and rats from becoming a pest in your home."

Most important, get rid of any places where mice and rats can hide and reproduce. Remove trash, old boards, weeds, brush piles, rock piles, firewood and other junk from your home, garage and property, Mengak said.

Keep garbage in tightly covered cans. Feed dogs and cats from dishes, and take up uneaten food. Use squirrel guards to deter rats and mice from feeding from bird feeders. Don’t pile wood against the house, and store firewood at least a foot off the ground.

Make sure patio and garage doors stay closed, seal openings under doors, and cover windows with one-quarter-inch mesh wire screen, he said.

Cement or caulk around pipes (gas, water, hose or air conditioning drains) and wires (phone, cable and TV). Cover clothes dryer vents, but allow for adequate airflow. Clean them regularly to remove lint that could be a fire hazard.

Seal small holes and cracks by stuffing them with steel wool and caulking over them.

Why is it so important to keep the rodents at bay? Rats and mice can carry fleas and ticks and transmit bacteria and diseases. They can spoil food, too, and eat crops, stored grains, birdseed and pet food.

“Rats and mice have poor eyesight but excellent senses of smell, taste and touch,” Mengak said. “They usually hide during the day and come out at night. If you see one, you can be sure there are many more you haven’t seen.”

Three species like to live indoors, and all three can be found in Georgia. They are the house mouse, the Norway rat and the roof rat.

House mice are three inches long, not including the tail, which doesn’t have fur.

Rats are much larger and can be up to a foot long, not including the tail.

Norway rats are also called brown rats, house rats, barn rats, sewer rats, gray rats or wharf rats. They are heavy bodied and weigh more than a pound. Their ears do not reach past their eyes. Their fur is usually brown or reddish gray, and they are not good climbers.

Roof rats, also known as black or ship rats, are sleek with ears that extend past their eyes. They weigh between 5 ounces and 10 ounces. Their fur can be brown or black. They are good climbers.

For more information on rats and mice, visit the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ publication, “Rats and Mice: Get Them Out of Your House and Yard,” at pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/C970/C970.html.

Sharon Dowdy
University of Georgia

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