Rats are well known for spreading parasites and diseases to humans and animals, and they are also the most troublesome wildlife pests for homeowners due to their habit of damaging lawn grass, gardens, landscaping plants and structures. The Norway rat has inhabited Maine for many years, but since 2014, residents and pest control professionals have found that Norway rat pest issues are becoming far more frequent on residential properties in Maine. Last year, the fall season saw a surge in rat pest complaints among residents all over the state, especially in Belfast and other midcoast urban areas. Rat complaints among residents tends to increase during the fall when rats are searching for warm shelter in order to escape the approaching winter cold, and central heating causes the odor of indoor cooking to radiate into the natural environment, which attracts rats into homes. At the moment, Norway rats all over Maine are making a mad dash into homes, and if the normal trend continues, the number of rat infestations this year will surpass last year’s numbers in the state.

While residents, pest control professionals and community leaders in Maine have acknowledged the increase in rat pest issues in the state during the past few years, scientists have yet to document this increase with hard data. Despite this, many scientists have suggested that the rat population explosion in Maine may be driven by an increase in acorns in the state. This explanation may sound silly to some, but an abundance of acorns fueled the recent surge in Maine’s squirrel population, and since rats readily feed on a variety of foods, including acorns, an unusually large abundance of nuts could also explain the rat population boom in the state. However, other experts believe that human activity could be responsible for the rat epidemic in Maine. For example, pest control professionals in Maine have found that rat pest issues are particularly common on properties that contain bird feeders and small backyard hobby farms. The rat pests may be attracted to the food that residents toss into their yards in order to feed birds and backyard chickens. One pest control professional recently treated a rat infestation at a Bangor home where the residents tossed at least 40 pounds of birdseed into their lawn every week. Other experts believe that the mild winter weather during the past few years in Maine has allowed rats to produce an extra litter or two, resulting in a noticeable increase in rat pests in residential areas. Although Norway rats are around a foot and a half long and weigh a pound, the rat pests can squeeze through narrow cracks on a home’s exterior that are no larger than one half of an inch across.

Have you noticed an increase in the rat population in your neighborhood?