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Brown rat

Also known as the Common Rat, the Sewer Rat, the Haniver Rat and the Norway Rat. Brown or grey body of up to 10” long with a tail of up to the same length. Males on average weight around 350g and females 250g although Brown Rats of over a kilo have been recorded! Signs of rats in your garden include droppings, which are dark in colour, about half an inch long and cylindrical, runways and rub marks indicating where the rats have burrowed and their regular paths and of course visual sightings

Wild rat

Image via Wikipedia

Overview

The brown rat orgininted in Northern China and has spread across the world, making it an incredibly successful animal. In urban areas you can find rats all year round, in rural areas they are more likely to be spotted in winter, when they move from agriculture fields into our back gardens for food, cover and warmth. They live in large social groups and will excavate extensive burrow systems and are more active at night time, communicating by ultrasonic vocalizations and chirping. Each female in the group can produce up to five litters of up to fourteen young per year, with a life expectancy of up to three years, although 95% of brown rats will die before they reach one year old. The brown rate is omnivorous and will consume just about anything but prefers cereals to form the bulk of its diet, indeed it is common for grain to be used as the basis to rat poison.

In the garden

Most people don’t want rats in their garden, after all they spread disease, eat other small animals and birds eggs. Many people decide to bait the rats with poisons containing anticoagulants and phosphides, however this can problems for other animals and birds in your wildlife garden. Dogs, cats and children can interfere with bait boxes, and if not used correctly can have devastating consequences. Secondary poisoning can also occur if the rat is predated by a Tawny or Barn Owl, Stoat or Fox for example. Traps are a much safer alternative, but don’t forget to check them every 24 hours. Prevent rat infestations in gardens by keeping an eye on the sources of food you are providing for other creatures such as hedgehogs and garden birds. Do not feed to excess and remove any uneaten food at nighttimes when rats are most active. Keep a good housekeeping system for outdoor domestic animals such as rabbit and guinea pigs. Remember to set traps instead of using poison.

Interesting facts

  • Antarctica is the only continent where brown rats haven’t colonised.
  • In 2007 a study by researchers at the University of Georgia found brown rats to posses Metacognition, which is a mental ability previously only found in humans and some primates!
  • It is said that when you are in London you are never more than 6 feet from a rat.
  • A rat can jump up to 6 feet and run 100 meters in under 10 seconds!
  • Rats also carry fleas, which can spread the bubonic plague and were the culprits for the 'Black Death' in Europe in 1348