Q: How can I get rid of rats that are eating fruit off fruit trees in my backyard?
Robert S., Westminster, Calif.
A: There are several types of fruit trees, but many have a common enemy: the roof rat, a nocturnal species that traveled on the first ships to the New World and carried the bubonic plague.
Able to leap from trees to rooftops, scale home exteriors, build nests in attics … it’s Roof Rat!
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Residents of warmer climates know the fruit-hungry varmint quite well. It’s one of the most troublesome rodents in Florida, one that can shut down an industrial citrus grove and cost it dearly.
Native to Southeast Asia, roof rats grow to a foot or more in length, and they’re prolific breeders. A female has as many as five litters a year of five to eight pups each. Adults can leap from trees to rooftops, scale home exteriors with their sharp claws and infiltrate soffits, where they often build nests in attics or behind walls.
If you’re a homeowner with fruit trees, and you find hollowed-out fruit with an entry hole the size of a quarter or half-dollar, you probably have a roof rat infestation. Once confirmed, there are ways to halt their advance and keep them away from your home, which is their eventual destination.
First, don’t wait to pick up fallen fruit, as roof rats will seek it out first before climbing a fruit tree. The more fruit you leave on the ground, the bigger your rat problem. Check your trees often, especially after heavy winds.
As a preventive measure, plant fruit trees as far away from your house as possible. Keep all nearby trees trimmed, so they don’t touch your house and provide an easy catwalk for rats. You’ll also want to trim low branches so you don’t give rats access to low-hanging fruit.
If you have a live animal trap and want to catch and release the rats into the wild, peanut butter or bacon should lure them in.
Poison baits are an option, but that choice involves responsibility, as toxic baits can harm other curious animals and children.
Whether you prefer catch-and-release or on-site disposal, your best bet is to call a pest control professional and have them assess your problem. They have the equipment and training to do the job right.
A pro knows how to rig a bait station according to state and local regulations. A pro also can trap the rats and either let them go elsewhere or euthanize them.
With everything involved, roof rat eradication isn’t a good do-it-yourself project. If you face a rat invasion, let an expert handle it.
Staff writer Brent Glasgow contributed to this report.