Everyone knows that rats and mice are rodents. But did you know that tree squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, and voles are also rodents? How about beavers, muskrats, and woodchucks? Porcupines and prairie dogs? Yes, they are all in the Order Rodentia and are all related. Rodentia is the largest order of mammals with about 1,700 species. The largest rodent in the world is the capybara of South Africa. It is the size of a pig and weighs up to 110 pounds! The smallest rodent is the pygmy mouse which weighs only a few grams.
The teeth, the fur, and the tail are the common physical characteristics that characterize a member of the rodent family. The word rodent comes from the Latin word “rodere” which means “to gnaw.” That’s one thing that all of these animals have in common. A rodent has prominent upper and lower incisors which constantly grow. Rodents use their incisors to gain access to areas, to obtain food, water and nesting materials, and in defense. Sometimes rodents gnaw just because they can, and gnawing damage can be significant in certain situations.
In addition to their ability to gnaw, other common characteristics that allow rodents to become successful pests include a simple, yet effective, body shape, a high reproductive potential, and the ability to adapt to a wide variety of habitats, foods, and living conditions.
We refer to those rodents that are pests in and around our homes as “commensal rodents.” Commensal means “to share the table” which is exactly what these pest rodents do. They have adapted to living with people and feeding on the same foods. The most important commensal rodents are the house mouse, the Norway rat, and the roof rat. Some rodents like deer mice, voles, and tree squirrels which sometimes use human property for shelter and food, could be termed semi-commensal. The great majority of rodent species, though, are non-commensal and do not interact with people. This includes many other species of rats and mice that live in the wild.
On the flip side, some people assume that any small, brown, furry animal that scurries around their yard is a rodent. Shrews, moles, and even bats are mistakenly identified as rodents. None of these animals is a rodent; rabbits are not rodents either. Rodent or not, when any animal becomes a pest or a health threat around our homes, it then falls into the category of “nuisance wildlife.” At Colonial, one of our specialties is humane removal of nuisance wildlife. We can also pest-proof your home to keep rodents and other animal invaders out.