Back to Nature (Published on TBNWeekly.com - March 6, 2008)
On my return from the mail box at the end of our driveway I sensed something very
small fall upon my shoulder. On quick observation I discovered a flea!
|Photo by Karen Mitchell Tremmel
|The squirrel: A rodent with
large brown eyes, bouncing fluffy tail and excellent PR.
Above me upon a large live oak limb scampered a gray squirrel. Although gray
squirrels are amusing to watch playing games in the trees, they have often been the
source of my irritation. Until we discovered squirrel proof bird feeders, we
undoubtedly spent more money on feeding the squirrels than attracting birds.
The squirrel is a fat rat with a fluffy tail the public, in general, likes to love
... a rodent with good PR. I blame them for most things that go wrong in my garden.
My uprooted spring bulbs, the planters that are dug and dismantled, the chewed
limbs and branches, but when most infuriated, I refer to them as flea bitten
The goal of my column this week was to expose these vermin to the public letting
everyone know these cute little creatures with large, brown eyes and bouncing,
fluffy tails are actually marauding villains in disguise.
To my surprise, research revealed that they arent the demonic creatures that
one might identify them as. The actual culprit responsible for most of the damage
to our gardens, roofs, soffits, trees, fruit, flower beds, wiring and so on, is the
Roof Rat, referred to in Florida as the fruit rat.
Although gray squirrels are susceptible to fleas, mange, botfly infestation and
other diseases, scientific surveys indicate that not all gray squirrels have fleas
nor do they all carry a host of diseases. Some do, some dont. However,
roof-fruit rats are notorious for spreading fleas and diseases, and since they live
and share the same habitat with squirrels it may be this contact that considerably
increases the incidence of squirrels becoming infested with fleas and disease.
Roof rats (Rattus rattus) are abundant in Florida. The Norway rat (Rattus
norvegicus) familiar to most people is actually rare in Florida. You can easily
observe roof rats at dawn or dusk running along power lines, resting upon roofs and
snacking upon the fruit of citrus trees.
The University of Florida relates that the secretive, nocturnal nature of rats
means that they often go unnoticed in a neighborhood until citrus and other fruit
begin to ripen. Roof rats then make their presence known with a vengeance. In
citrus, papaya, cantaloupe and watermelon, the characteristic damage is a circular
hole about the size of a quarter or half dollar and the whole fruit is hollowed
The roof rat (rattus rattus, a.k.a. citrus rat, fruit rat, black rat, or gray rat)
is non native to Florida. It is an introduced species of rat native to southern
Asia. This rat is the same species that carried the bubonic plague around the world
and is also the reservoir host for murine typhus. The UF Institute of Food and
Agricultural Sciences dubs the roof rat as the worst rodent pest in the state of
Florida and most abundant.
They offer this criterion for identification purposes: Adult roof rats are 12- to
14-inches long and weigh 5 to 10 ounces. The tail of a roof rat is longer than the
head and body length: hairless, scaly, and black color. The body is sleek and
graceful with prominent ears and eyes. There are three color phases seen in
Florida: black back with a slate gray belly, gray back with lighter gray belly, and
brownish gray above with a white or cream colored belly.
Roof rats consume and destroy stored animal and human food, attack fruit crops,
and take up residence in attics, soffits, hollow walls, and out-buildings. When
they invade buildings they chew through wires (potentially starting fires), gnaw
through plastic and lead water pipes, make holes in walls and cause other
structural damage. William H. Kern Jr. Control of Roof Rats in Fruit
Trees. University of Florida: IFAS, 24 Feb. 2008.
Fleas and mites often leave dead rat carcasses and may infest the entire house if
the carcass is not removed promptly. Always wear a HEPA approved breathing mask and
gloves when removing any roof rat droppings or nests around your home.
Although the roof rat is difficult to control, carefully preserving your landscape
as raptor and snake friendly will positively assist in maintaining a balance in the
roof rat population. Although there are a variety of traps and poisons available on
the market for controlling rat infestations, take heed and first contact your local
extension office before attempting to bait or trap rats on your own. Improperly
baiting and poisoning can largely affect and kill the innocent wild animal and bird
populations, as well your beloved pets.
Now, as for that squirrel resistant feeder youll be inquiring about: The
only one that works for us is a tall cylinder surrounded by an ornate cage. When
the squirrel tries to access it the weight of the squirrel moves the cage down thus
closing the feeder holes. The top of the feeder is protected by a large metal
baffle. We found ours at our local home improvement store. They seem to carry them
as a stock item. While maintaining balance in your garden; you can reduce the rat
population, feed only the birds you want to feed and continue to be
amused by squirrelly antics ... back to nature.
Karen can be reached at MyMuddyPawsStudio@gmail.com.