As roof rats are traveling around looking for food and shelter, you and your neighbors may be laying out the welcome mat, inviting these rodents into your home. Your best defense against roof rats is to learn what they are, assess your risk and then learn how to stop them.

roof rats

What is a roof rat?

Roof rats, which can grow to a body length of 10 to 12 inches, are often mistaken for squirrels and can be gray, brown or black. Though you probably won’t have a good look at it, a roof rat’s tail is another feature that differentiates it from other rodents. Their tails are hairless, scaly, and most importantly, longer than the entire length of their head and body.

These rodents pose both a health and safety risk, so you don’t want them hanging out in and around your home. Roof rats can:

  • Destroy property and belongings
  • Chew through wires and cause fires
  • Tear drywall and insulation
  • Die in your walls, creating foul odors
  • Leave potentially contaminated droppings behind

If you hear creeping and crawling in your attic while you’re trying to sleep, that could very well be a roof rat or two. These rodents are typically active at night and are pretty crafty climbers, using trees and wires to access elevated areas, like your attic, where they can find shelter, and maybe even food.

Where do roof rats live?

Although roof rats can be found along US coastal and port areas, some communities receive more reports from residents than others. To help you assess your risk of infestation, we put together a list of the worst communities in America in 2017 for roof rat activity.*

  1. Savannah, Ga.
  2. Memphis, Tenn.
  3. Miami, Fla.
  4. Sacramento, Calif.
  5. Fort Myers, Fla.
  6. Los Angeles, Calif.
  7. Tampa, Fla.
  8. Dallas, Texas
  9. San Diego, Calif.
  10. San Francisco, Calif.
  11. Honolulu, Hawaii
  12. Phoenix, Ariz.
  13. Houston, Texas
  14. Jacksonville, Fla.
  15. San Antonio, Texas

Roof rats can enter new regions by train, truck or ships, which could help explain why a city like Memphis, known as “America’s Distribution Center,” tops our list.

What causes roof rats to enter your home?

A roof rat has to eat, and your neighborhood is full of food sources. Fruits and nuts that have fallen from trees are welcome meals for these rodents. They’ll often even eat fruit that’s still on the tree. And if nothing else is available, they may find your dog’s droppings appetizing too. 

Just because your yard is clean doesn’t mean your neighbor’s is. Roof rats can travel hundreds of feet in the span of a night in search for food, and just may end up nesting in your yard or attic.

How to get rid of roof rats

Because roof rats are nocturnal, they may be hard to physically spot in your attic (and you may honestly not want to see them). But there are some signs you can look for that will reveal they’ve probably been there:

  • Smudge marks: Oils and dirt can rub off the roof rat’s fur, so look for these marks, which are also referred to as “rub marks,” in your attic.
  • Droppings: As with any rodent, roof rats leave droppings behind.
  • Sounds in the attic: As mentioned before, sounds coming from the attic at night could be a good indication of roof rats.

If one or more of these signs are detected, it’s time to take the proper measures to get rid of these roof rats before they cause damage to your home or health, and setting traps is typically the best way to go.

However, not only are roof rats generally among the hardest rodents to capture, but knowing how and where to set traps can be difficult, and not doing so with the proper caution can be very dangerous. It really should be left to the pest professionals

Terminix employs experts who are specially trained to handle common household rodents, like roof rats. And with our pest control plan, if they come back, so do we.

*This list was created by compiling services data from more than 300 Terminix branches across the country. The rankings represent Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) with the highest number of actual services between Jan. 1, 2017 and Oct. 1, 2017.