Ever heard of a packrat? Most of us associate this name immediately with a person who collects way too much stuff and is unwilling to throw anything away. The funny thing is, is that not many people know (or believe) that a packrat is actually an animal; a rat! They are native to the western side of the United States, which is why most people in the eastern United States have never heard of them before. I certainly didn’t believe it either when I first moved to the ranch, but I learned quickly that these animals are real and they are big, smelly, nasty critters.
One day my mother-in-law and I were out in the mud room of their house and she said, “Ew, it smells like a rat.” I did smell something, but it smelled like a skunk to me but I had no idea what a rat smelled like, and I was still skeptical that these “packrats” existed. It wasn’t more than a day later when I saw my first packrat. My father-in-law had killed a rat and showed it to me. It had huge beady eyes and a bushy tail and it was about the size of a small rabbit.
Here are some interesting facts about these creative rats:
Normal rat traps do not work on these critters, because they are extremely smart (for the most part). You cannot set a normal rat trap and expect the packrat to get killed, when they go for the bait they will grab it and jump up before the trap snaps. Most people will set rat traps in large pipes or buckets so that they cannot jump up out of the trap. Coyote traps have worked best for us and so far our best bait has been aluminum foil.
Packrats are notorious for “packing” off items, especially if they are shinny. If a packrat has an object (food, wood, or bedding items) and they run across something that is better than what they have (such as keys, screws, or anything shinny) they will drop the item they are carrying and pack off the better item. Hence the name- packrat. This is why aluminum foil is a perfect way to kill a packrat, we wrap aluminum foil around the middle of a coyote trap and when the packrat tries to run off with the foil they get snapped. It has worked every time.
For some reason they do not like carrots and so if you put a carrot in a trap and they are near by, they will actually go get the carrot and move it, because they don’t like the smell… weird. Packrats also love prunes so if your out of aluminum foil a prune will work too.
Packrats smell awful!!! Typically the first indication of a packrat is the smell. The smell is equivalent to the smell of a skunk and it hangs around for a long time even after the rat is long gone! Once a packrat ran through our mud-room and it stunk for weeks! These are not pleasure rodents to have around.
Being quiet is also not a trait of a packrat especially if they are in your walls. Over the summer, before Sean and I got married, I spent the night at his house while he was out camping with a friend. It was the night of no sleep because Sean had a packrat in his walls that he had not killed yet. There is nothing scarier than you being alone in a house and hearing loud banging noises in the ceiling then the scattering of feet. It literally sounded like a bowling ball was falling from a couple feet up and landing on the pillars. Apparently it is the packrat pounding its tail, which I don’t know why they do it, but it is loud and scary. The pounding would always happen just about an hour apart, so right when I finally was starting to fall asleep the pound would happen again.
Packrat nests are full of goodies. Typically filled with different food sources for the rat and lots of different shiny items. So if you are missing something that you just can’t find… You can actually blame it on a packrat.
The reason why I bring this whole topic up is because my husband and I were cleaning up our backyard and I was moving our woodpile. While I was moving the woodpile I picked up a log and there was the biggest packrat I had ever seen. I let out a terrifying scream to which my husband came running, thinking that I had been hurt or seen a snake. When I told him that it was a packrat he grabbed his 22 and took aim and shot the rat. This was a big-boy rat and he had been getting fat off of our scraps that we throw in our decomposing bucket right next to the woodpile. He had ripped apart a couple items that I had left outside and turned it into his bed. However, now all our wood smells like rat and will probably take several weeks to get rid of the smell, but at least we got the varmint!
If you still don’t believe me, check it out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pack_rat
Update: 11/23/16. Packrats seem to come in cycles. Sometimes you’ll have them and then for a years you won’t. This year, we have had packrats and mice. Our best solution? We bought a jack russell terrier, and I’ll tell you what, they are amazing dogs for killing small animals, like rats and mice. If she doesn’t kill them, she at least scares them out for us to get a good shot at them.