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Could That Be a Roof Rat?

By Chris Williams on December 21, 2015.

We own a beach cottage that is closed up part of the time. Last time we were there my husband trapped what seemed to be a rat in the storeroom. We looked it up and it looks like a roof rat which I’ve never heard of. Do they occur here and what can we do about them?

L. O., Salem, MA

Roof Rats or Black Rats Are Occasional Coastal Pests

It would be unusual for you to have a roof rat, but not impossible. Our main rat here in most of the Northeast is the brown rat or Norway rat. Roof rats (also called black rats) are found primarily in coastal regions and usually in warmer coastal regions in the South or Gulf states, or along the West coast. Occasional coastal populations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire are usually attributed to roof rats that hitchhiked in on ships.

According to rodent expert Dr. Bobby Corrigan, the U.S. range of roof rats is moving more northward and more inland. Even in the Northeast, roof rats cannot be ruled out in areas upward of 50-100 miles inland from coastal zones that have documented roof rats. There are even occasional inland pockets of roof rats that are associated with major river systems and barge traffic.

Roof Rats Travel and Nest Above Ground

Roof rats are slightly smaller and more slender than Norway rats with darker coloration. Like their name implies, roof rats are more aerial than Norway rats. Roof rats are agile and climb easily and, when they do enter buildings, they often enter around the roofline. They rarely nest in ground burrows like Norway rats, but more often nest in trees, attics, or upper void spaces. Nevertheless, in areas where they commonly occur, roof rats sometimes infest sewer systems.

I suggest that you have Colonial Pest or another exterminator inspect your cottage for further evidence of rodents of any type. Chances are that no further control is needed. If your rodent was indeed a roof rat, it was probably an isolated occurrence. It’s not likely that your cottage would support an infestation of rats with no regular food sources available. For more information, see our Service Page on Black Rat Removal and Extermination.

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