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Rats are Neophobic

By Chris Williams on February 1, 2012.

Q. We have a rat that’s been hanging around under our deck. My husband bought one of those giant-sized rat snap traps and put it under there, baited with a piece of cheese.  The rat just ignores it. We saw him walk right around it. My husband tried a different bait, but still no luck. Do we have a picky rat or what are we doing wrong?

A. What you’re witnessing is pretty typical rat behavior. While mice are curious about new  things in their territory and will investigate them, rats are just the opposite.  Rats are wary and afraid of new things. We refer to them as “neophobic,” which means they have a fear of new objects.  Who knew that rats were phobic just like the rest of us!

Both rats and mice like to travel along the edges of walls or objects, and follow pre-programmed runways on their travels. If you place a peanut butter-baited trap against the wall, smack dab in the middle of a rat’s runway, he will most likely stop, and maybe even back up, and will establish a new travel pattern away from the trap. Do the same thing along a mouse’s travel route and he will approach and check out the trap with little hesitation.

ratsMost rats will avoid anything new in their territory, whether it’s a trap or a piece of wood, for a few days until they get used to it. Even then, they will approach it cautiously.  You already know how this complicates pest control efforts. It means that a bait station or a trap is going to be avoided for some time after it is put in place.  After a few days,  the rat may cautiously nibble at the toxic bait but because he’s still wary, he may only eat enough to get sick, causing him to shy away from similar baits in the future. This avoidance behavior has led to many exaggerated stories about wily and highly intelligent rats who “recognize” traps and poison baits.

Pest control professionals deal with this rat behavior in a couple of ways. They will sometimes prebait for several days with a nontoxic bait, giving the rats time to adjust to the new bait station and to get used to feeding there. Once the rats are comfortable, a toxic bait is substituted.  Similarly, an unset trap can be put in place, baited with a food bait. When the rats are used to feeding freely at the trap, the trigger is then set.

Mice, on the other hand, are usually easier to bait or trap since they explore changes in their territory. Mice are curious. If an object has been moved or added, they will actually investigate it and will readily enter bait stations.  Sometimes, pest control technicians will purposely move objects in a mouse’s territory to funnel the mouse towards recently placed traps or baits.

Your rat should eventually approach the trap and try to eat the bait. Hopefully, you’ll catch him.  In the meantime, you really should place that trap inside a tamper-resistant bait station to keep other animals or pets from getting caught in the trap. It will also keep an injured trapped rat from dragging the trap away. And, I hate to say it but where you’ve got one rat, there are probably more. Give Colonial a call.  Our trained technicians will do a full inspection and set up a rat control program for you with guaranteed results.

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