Friday, December 23, 2016

further encounters with urban wildlife

There are rats around and about. We managed not to see any until recently, perhaps thanks to the various mostly-feral cats that have been around--cats which Leela does not appreciate and has made some efforts toward chasing off.

Then Anna found a dead one a month or three ago, with no obvious cause of death (thankfully before hitting it with the lawnmower). It was starting to disintegrate, but since I have the normal American relationship with dead things, I have no idea how long it takes for the skin to start sliding around. Underneath that rat was a rat skull, picked clean. I would have thought that would take a while due to not having the proper beetles in the area, but there was inarguably a clean rat skull, and Dermestidae has hundreds of species, so who knows? Maybe it was the pillbugs. (This graphic--"How do you clean the brains out of a deer skull? Around here, we use compressed air!"--time-lapse video shows the beetles at work.)

The questions only beget more questions, though. How does a rat die next to our front walk, with no apparent trauma? Directly on top of a solitary rat skull? Did it run outside, see the skull, and die of fright? And really, what took them so long to show up? (The house came with what Anna referred to as "mouse highways," but then we saw no sign of any.)

One night, I just happened to spot a rat running along the top rail of our fence. We started to hear chewing in the bathroom wall, a couple spots in the ceiling. After many sweaty hours spent cleaning out our scary attic (Tyvek suits don't breathe), Anna found rat scat. Based on the flatter, more mouse-like shapes of the actual rats encountered, we have the black rat (Rattus rattus, among my favorite species names), rather than the brown/Norwegian rat (Rattus norvegicus, no slouch in the species-name department). The brown rat appears to carry a different load of diseases than the black rat, though when it's Ebola vs. Black Death, I don't think anyone really wins there.

It turns out there aren't a lot of options that don't involve killing rats. You can conceivably live-trap them, I guess? And drive them to the park to release, or something--it certainly doesn't scale well if you have many rats. Glue traps seems cruel, poison is cruel and offers the potential bonuses of dead rats in your walls instead of your attic, and of poisoned rats going about where other animals will eat them.

Anna set to work, and since we didn't know for certain what was eating the house, she put out 2 rat traps and 4 mouse traps, all of the old-school wooden variety that we know from Tom & Jerry cartoons. (The technology has improved quite a bit, and I wound up getting a couple of those, as well as a battery-powered electric one.)

There were lots of rat-noises, a striking amount of skittering around, some very loud squeaking; and some thumps and more skittering. One of the locations had set off a rat trap and both mouse traps, leading to one dead rat and one sure to be hurting, if not maimed. I'd always been warned those traps will break your finger, and while that may be true for a mouse trap, the much bigger rat trap will clearly break your finger bones into many unpleasant pieces. Not even rats can become that squished and survive.

Based on the spinal trauma, I have to imagine that the rat died quickly, but it still had time to try and bolt down the wall, and only the trap itself stopped her. (The solution to that is--wait for it--secure the trap in place.) One of the mouse traps was also at the top of the wall gap, so I'm guessing there was a colleague.

Left the 3 un-tripped traps in place; put the electronic trap up there, but turned off, so they'd get used to it. All bait remains untouched. Turned the electronic trap on; still untouched.

Was there only ever one rat? Did the other rats see and hear and smell their companion die, and think "This whole 'house' adventure was Diane's idea to start with. Fuck this, we'll take our chances with the cats"?

Mostly just glad it wasn't raccoons.

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