There is an old saying, once attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” Whether Emerson said it or not, it is a truism that has been embraced by society, and is reflected in the fact that traps to catch both mice and rats are the most frequently invented (or is that reinvented?) device in U.S. History.
Rats present a large problem to agriculture; it is estimated that millions of dollars’ worth of food crops are lost annually to their incursions; rat populations are also on the rise in urban areas across the US fuelling fears of the spread of disease. Rat control has become a huge and lucrative industry and the use of rat traps is a major tool in the battle against the rodents.
In general, rat traps can be broken into two broad categories: traps intended to kill the rodent and live capture cages. Both lure the rat in with food and have the ultimate goal of removing the animal considered vermin by most people from a home or work environment.
No-kill rat traps
No kill rat traps are slowly gaining in popularity as more and more people become concerned with animal rights, although they have get to gain widespread popularity . Rats do have a place in the ecosystem as scavengers clearing out dead animal and plant materials. They are also an important food source for carnivorous species such as owls, hawks, bobcats, mountain lions and many other apex predators.
The best known non-lethal trap is a “cage trap”.
Cage traps are metal or wire boxes containing bait (non-poisonous) to entice the normally cautious rodent. A food ball is placed inside the trap; removing or eating the food triggers a mechanism that snaps the entry gate closed, confining the rodent without injury. Cage traps must be monitored closely—a trapped rat will die of stress and dehydration if not taken outside and released promptly.
Another live capture cage trap uses a wire funnel that allows only one way movement into the device. Rats can squeeze themselves forward through openings as small as a quarter but cannot exit due exposed wires at the end of the funnel. The sharp ends poke the rodents in the face and body if they make the attempt.
Other non-lethal traps include the “bucket trap”, literally little more than a large plastic or metal bucket which has a piece of wood propped against it. Food bait is placed at the bottom of the bucket. Rats climb up the “ramp”, go for the food then find they cannot climb out of the trap. Again, these must be monitored carefully and the rats released outside promptly. This type of rat trap can be easily converted to a humane killing trap by filling the bucket about a third full with water. Most rats will drown within two minutes, although Norway rats are strong swimmers and it could take far longer for them to exhaust themselves and succumb.
A simple internet search for no-kill rat traps will also bring up many ““homemade” devices. One uses a liter soda bottle cut apart and fashioned into a funnel with plastic “spikes” cut into the opening. This operates on the same principle as the wire cage funnel trap, with the funnel positioned so that the rat is trapped in the body of the bottle unharmed and ready for release.
Rat killing traps
Traps designed to kill take several forms, some delivering death in a more “humane” (i.e. quick and painless) manner than others which use in methods increasingly deemed inhumane to exterminate the rodent.Traps that kill are by far more popular than the no-kill variety; most people cannot extend empathy to a creature they see as a dangerous pest. They prefer to dispatch them summarily– preferably with as little contact with the rat as possible.
Glue traps are one of the most inhumane rat traps in existence. Glue or sticky traps are squares of heavy paper or vinyl which have been coated with a non-poisonous sticky adhesive and impregnated with substances attractive to rats. Placed on the rat’s customary route of travel, the animal walks across the sticky surface and is fixed to the trap. Rats caught in this method have been known to chew off their paws to escape, most are trapped by more body surface and die an agonizing death due to starvation, dehydration and stress exhaustion. Asphyxiation can also occur when a rat becomes stuck head or nose down to the paper. It is also possible that the animal will not die, and have to be killed manually.
Any trap that utilizes rat poison is considered to be inhumane. Rat poisons, almost without exception use chemical substances which can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks to actually kill the rat by slow building toxicity.
A huge drawback to the use of rat poison traps is the likelihood that the rat will crawl off to its nest (usually inside walls or other inaccessible places) to die, which leaves a secondary problem with the odor of decomposition. Another consequence of this, odor aside, is that fleas and mites will immediately abandon the body of a dead rat, and can establish themselves within the house or office. Since the fleas of rats are known disease vectors, one pest is replaced by another which may be equally as dangerous.
Another, more tragic drawback is that poisoned rats can be consumed by non-target animals, before or after the poison has done its work, resulting in secondary poisoning. This has a huge impact on both pets and wildlife, most often lethal in outcome. Recognizing these dangers, the Environmental Protection Agency has dictated that poisons be used only in tamper proof bait stations enclosed so that the poison bait is accessible only to the rats. This EPA ruling does not eliminate the danger from poisoned rat carcasses being eaten, but it does eliminate direct consumption of the poisonous baits by pets, wildlife and small children.
Snap traps are a humane choice when they are able to kill instantly. Ideally a snap trap is activated when food bait is removed or eaten by the rat, triggering the spring loaded mechanism. When the metal bar strikes the rat in the neck or spine, death is usually instantaneous. However, sometimes a rat will be caught by a paw or tail and not killed outright, resulting in an inhumane, prolonged death.
A more recent invention is the electronic rat trap. Rats have the unusual ability to restart their hearts after minor electric shocks (natural selection from decades of chewing through household and car wiring!) electronic devices must provide a longer term exposure to voltage to ensure a kill.
Battery operated, these so called “rat zappers” have a chamber in which food bait is placed, enticing the rat to enter. One popular model delivers a high voltage (8,500 volts) electric discharge of two minutes duration to ensure a kill. The electric shock rat traps claim a 100% kill rate and the ability to dispatch 50 rats per set of batteries. The electric trap’s enclosed chamber allows for disposal of rat remains without the need to touch the dead animal, it can be dumped directly into a trash receptacle unseen.
Whichever type of rat trap is employed it is vital that the trap be put out baited but not activated for a few days so that rats will consider the trap a safe source of food. There are reasons for this; rats are notorious for avoiding “new” things in their environment, and are very cautious about taking baits in any quantity at first. Once they’ve grown accustomed to a trap, it can then be activated.
Not the ultimate solution?
The use of any trap, including poison bait traps, is a temporary measure at best. Rats killed are very quickly replaced by others. Unless preventative measures are taken the rat infestation problem will be on-going and endless.
Rats are infamous for being carriers of disease and leaving destruction in their wake. It has long been held that killing the animals is the only effective way to rid properties of their incursions. However, the best and most effective means of dealing with a rat infestation is to prevent it.
This is done by eliminating the sources of rat food and water from the buildings in question, including fixing leaky indoor and outdoor taps and cleaning up food spills promptly. Storage of both human and pet food should be in containers which the rats cannot easily chew through (metal, ceramic or glass). Food waste should not be tossed on the ground around the structure, garbage cans must be secured. Bird feeder spillage must be cleaned up promptly—bird seed is a prime attractant to rats, particularly in an urban or suburban environment.
It is also of vital importance to rat-proof buildings. This means to seal off entry points with heavy gauge small gap screening material or close gaps up entirely. Structures must also be kept free of items that provide ready nesting materials to the rats. Bushes and woodpiles should be kept away from outside walls, grass kept closely cut and overgrowth kept under control.
Remember, prevention is always more economical and a lot easier on the nerves than curing an existing problem.