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Types of Rats in Western US

Rats look a lot like other rodents. This similarity to other rodents can sometimes lead to confusion about what kind of pest is in the house or building. But if you know what to look for, rats vary slightly in appearance depending on the species.

There are two common rat species in Northern America:


Norway rats

Norway rats

The name is a misnomer; the Norway rat is not Norwegian at all. These rats are found pretty much everywhere. Other aliases include brown rat, sewer rat, barn rat, water rat, grey rat, and wharf rat. Norway rats will dig burrows with hidden emergency exits beneath lawns and into homes and businesses.  Any place will do: railroad embankments, piles of garbage, under concrete.

What they look like

  • Length: 7-9 in.
  • Weight: 12 oz.
  • Fur is coarse and shaggy and they are generally brown or gray in color, with white on their abdomen
  • Tails are shorter than their bodies
  • Small ears and eyes
  • Droppings are up to ¾ inch long and capsule-shaped


  • Gestation takes 3 weeks
  • 3-6 litters per year
  • 7-8 young a litter
  • Newborns are mature in 2-5 months
  • Adult live 6-12 months or longer if in captivity


  • Big foodies - they like lots of meat, fish and dry dog food 
  • Gnaw on many different types of objects – plastic, wood, or even lead pipes
  • Transmit diseases through droppings, urine, bites, fleas and mites in their fur
  • Can squeeze through openings as small as ½ inch
  • Color-blind, nocturnal, and can run, climb, jump, and swim

Roof rats

Roof rats roam around the world, but in the U.S., they are most common in coastal and southern states, especially near seaports. Also referred to as black rats, roof rats get their name because they are famous for their climbing abilities. They can climb up walls and trees near buildings and homes, giving them easy access to roofs and attics. They also have very large teeth and can chew through things as tough as sheetrock, soft cement, asphalt and even soft metals such as aluminum, copper and lead.

Roof rats are commensal rodents, living near and dependent upon the human habitat for survival. When these rodents infest homes, they can be found in attics, eaves, and rooflines. The most common identifying characteristic of roof rats is their tail. Roof rat tails are hairless and longer than the combined length of their head and body, whereas the tails of other rats are hairy and shorter than their head and body.

Roof rats prefer aerial harborages like tree canopies, dense shrubs, and climbing vines. These rats have pads on their feet to facilitate better climbing of narrow vines and limbs, and their tail also assists to balance when climbing high up off the ground. Roof rats generally begin searching for food shortly after sunset, using trees, utility lines, and fences to gain access to attics, overhead garage storage, woodpiles, and other stored goods. Roof rats are nocturnal and scurrying sounds in the attic at night are often the first sign of a roof rat infestation in homes.

Salmonella, leptospirosis, and rat-bite fever are among the dozens of diseases spread by roof rats. When foraging for food, roof rats contaminate food meant for humans, pets, and livestock. Roof rats are omnivores, eating both plants and animals, and are very fond of citrus fruit. They also favor pet food, pet feces, birdseed, meat, and grease, infesting storage sheds, and BBQs. Besides spreading disease, roof rats may cause extensive damage when nesting in walls and attics. Chewed, exposed wires inside walls can spark, causing interior walls to catch fire.

What they look like

  • Length: 16 in. (including tail)
  • Weight: 8-12 oz
  • Fur can be entirely black, dark gray or brown with white on the abdomen
  • Tails are usually much longer than their bodies
  • Thinner/sleeker than Norway Rats
  • Narrow head with large whiskers 
  • Long teeth (called incisors) that are incredibly strong and continually grow
  • Droppings are up to ½ inch (12.5 mm) long and spindle shaped


  • Gestation lasts 3 weeks
  • 4-6 litters per year
  • 6-8 young per litter
  • Newborns mature in 2-5 months and are live only for 9-12 months


  • Will eat fruits, veggies and cereal and tend to eat a lot all at once, returning to the spot time after time
  • Transmit disease through droppings, urine, bites, fleas and mites in their fur
  • Love heights 
  • Can squeeze through openings as small as ½ inch
  • Nocturnal and can run, climb, jump and swim

Control any type of rat

The key to controlling rats includes sanitation, elimination of their shelter, and rodent-proofing the structure. Gnaw marks, droppings, footprints, and 'tail-drag' marks are signs they have already infiltrated your home, as well as dark greasy markings that come from rubbing against things.

Exclusion is an important aspect of rodent control in structures. Most rodent problems are a result of indigenous species seeking food and shelter in our homes or businesses. A thorough inspection is important to identify entry points and to repair them, and is the only way to achieve long-term control in areas where this rodent is indigenous. Contact us at 800-937-8398 and we’ll take care of all your rat problems!

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