Packrats get their name due to their behaviors of collecting many different natural and manmade items and storing them in middens near their nests. Many species of this rat have adapted well to buildings and invade different areas of homes. It’s large size means it can quickly damage furniture or gnaw on wiring or conduits thus causing electrical shorts or other safety hazards.
As far as rats go, Packrats are an attractive mammal and are often described by field professionals as a large looking deer mouse or giant hamster. The Packrat is about the same size as the Norway rat but there are a few key differences. Packrats have large ears, bulging black eyes, very long, soft fine fur and hair tails. Upon closer inspection one can notice conspicuous facial whiskers (vibrissae).
Packrats are widely distributed around North America, of which there are 9 species. Each species is particular to a specific habitat. These rats have adapted well to urban areas and as a result can be found in occupied homes, attics, garages and soffits. Packrats have been involved in a number of health hazards. They can carry fleas or ticks which can be vectors for a number of serious
diseases such as lyme disease. At least 6 species of this rat have tested as resevoirs of the trypanosomes that cause Chagas disease.
Packrats are not particularily prolific and thus local populations grow relatively slow. The spring is the peak reproductive season and the average litter contains 2 to 4 pups. Gestation periods are estimated to range from 33 to 43 days. Most females produce one to two litters per year but in optimum conditions can produce up to 5. Behavioraly speaking packrats tend to be solitary animals except during mating and rearing periods. In the wild however, these rats can live for up to three years.
Depending on the species and the locale, woodrats/packrats feed on many different types of foods. In their natural settings various types of vegetation, seeds, nuts, berries and shoots are eaten. Insects, snails and other small mammals are also taken. Around buildings however, these rats aptly take advantage of human and any pet foods available in garages or left behind in summer cabins. Peak activity periods for this species are at night although it is not uncommon to see juveniles during the daytime.