August 8, 2017 > Roof rats
By Pat Kite
A roof rat has eaten my fig. Normally I donÕt care, as I usually have a zillion figs, but this yearÕs crazy weather has left me with several immature baby figs and one adult fig. It was just turning purple, and I decided to wait until it turned royal purpleÑnice and sweet. The next morning, sadly, only a shred of skin remained. This column is therefore dedicated to Mr. or Mrs. Rattus rattus, in case he or she is the culprit.
Roof rats, also known as ship rats, black rats, house rats, white-bellied or gray-bellied rats, are common in our area. They take up residence in ivy, walls, vines, attics and trees. Sometimes they opt to live in palm trees that are festooned with old fronds. Roof rats can climb horizontally and vertically. They easily clamber up pipes. In addition to my cherished fig, rats eat fresh and fallen fruit, nuts, vegetables, and whatever is remotely edible. If you leave out cat food or dog nibbles, rats devour those too. To obtain water from dried food, rats get it from leaky plumbing, aging sewer pipes, leaky sprinkler heads, and similar. When water is scarce, rats will chew through plastic and metal pipe.
Rats vs. mice. House mice are smaller. They are about three inches long, not including the tail, which is about 2 to 3 inches long. Weight is about one ounce. They are light grey to dark brown. Actually, they do tend to be cute, unless they have eaten your dishwasher rubber piping. Then mice tend to be an expensive repair. Roof rat bodies are six to eight inches long. Their six- to- nine- inch long, hairless scaly tails make them visible when climbing up your bird feeder for a snack.
Roof rats live all over the world, except for icy regions and true deserts. Where people dwell, roof rats usually dwell too. Roof rat remains have even been discovered in prehistoric sites. There are a few other types of rats besides Rattus rattus. They include Rattus norvegicus, the brown rat, wharf rat, river rate or Norway rat, which is also local. It is a tad plumper than the roof rat, and its tail is somewhat shorter. For residents of northern Australia and New Guinea, there is also the Giant naked-tail rat and the Golden-bellied water rat. Residing in South Africa is the Giant Gambian pouched rat, which has shown up in Florida.
A common superstition is that rats are supposed to know when a calamity is going to happen, since they will desert a soon-to-sink ship, or flee a soon-to-collapse house. There is supposedly a magical means to be rid of them: write a curse on a piece of paper, and leave it where the rats can find it. I shall try this should I ever again have an almost ripe fig.