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Monday, Jul 28, 2014

Hill: Rats! More pest problems

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I don’t mean to gross you out, but unless you live in a high-rise or a home hermetically sealed with no foliage in the immediate area and no power or cable lines entering the building on your level, there are rats around.

I’m saying this for a couple of reasons. One, because the one citrus tree in my backyard that is fully alive is bearing fruit. The near-dead one is, too, but the oranges on it are few and far between.

Fruit rats, also called roof rats and several other monikers, go after citrus, papaya, cantaloupe, watermelon, avocado, banana and pretty much any other tasty fruit or vegetable.

No doubt, rats are the royalty of unwanted wildlife in terms of general yuckiness.

At my last house, for some reason the rats avoided me. Maybe it was because I had cats. But they terrorized many of my neighbors.

My particular battle was with opossums. They lived under the deck of the house next door and used my yard as a neighborhood highway to get to the citrus they fought the rats for down the block.

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On the way, if I’d left cat food on the porch (a major sin no matter what type of wildlife you’re trying to deter) they’d wiggle through a hole in the screen and have a snack.

More than once, I opened the glass sliders to let Scoop the dog out and discovered the opossum after Scoop did. I took to leaving a broom on the porch so I could break up the fights and sweep the creature outside.

But rats took the cake, so to speak, in homes surrounding mine.

On one side, rats in the attic ate the insulation off a neighbor’s air conditioning ducts. The financial toll was in the thousands of dollars.

These skirmishes happen frequently in urban neighborhoods where we share living space with a wide variety of wildlife.

In this context, even the squirrels and rabbits that you might find cute or interesting in another setting become a nuisance — hence the term nuisance wildlife.

How often do we skirmish with these critters? No one keeps statistics because no one reports most of these confrontations because there is no one to report them to. But anecdotal evidence from friends, neighbors, trappers and wildlife officials suggests it happens a fair amount.

If you’ve been attacked, hiring licensed, professional trappers or exterminators is certainly a good and safe option when trying to defend your home.

But doing so is not without cost and inconvenience.

In the case of rats, they are a big enough problem — they also carry disease — that a number of cities, including St. Petersburg, will provide poison feeders that are mounted in the trees. The rats can get in them and eat the poison, but your cat can’t.

For information call the city’s Rodent Line at (727)-893-7360 or visit www.st pete.org/sanitation/free_rodent_control/index.asp.

For rats in your home, call a licensed exterminator.

So why all of this concern about rats?

Much of this was brought to mind by the telltale signs and a conversation with a neighbor who was aware of the rats but not of the city-provided poison rat feeders.

Oh, there’s one other reason I wanted to bring this situation to your attention.

If you have a dog, particularly a terrier, take heed. If you recall I mentioned Scoop and possums. What I didn’t mention is that Scoop is a combination Jack Russell terrier, Corgi — and Rat Terrier. Ergo, in this yard, which seems pretty much sans possums, when he wants to chase something that rustles in the dense foliage at night — barking and baying like a hound of the Baskervilles — rats will do.

Or at least I think they’re rats.

I’m fervently hoping he never catches one. I’d just as soon never be sure.

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