Eight different species of pack rats live throughout North America, though their common name is officially woodrats. Eastern, whitethroat, southern plains, bushytail, Mexican, desert, dusky-footed, and Stephens woodrats all hold distinct territories in the Nearctic region and have different appearances and diets based on their distribution. The rodents get the name pack rat from their tendency to collect items, like jewelry, cooking utensils, cutlery, and can tabs. Additionally, they may be called trade rats because some species leave items behind, like pinecones, instead of just taking.
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While they are similar in appearance and size to Norway rats, pack rats have hairy tails as opposed to scaly, soft and fine fur coats as opposed to coarse, and large ears. Their fur typically appears brown to gray in color. Some species are colored uniformly while others have lighter underbellies or differently colored feet. The thickness of fur and overall size of woodrats is dependent upon where in the continent they live. Average pack rat length ranges from 15 to 18 inches.
The various North American species of pack rats live in different sections of the region. Eastern and whitethroat woodrats can be found through Northern Mexico, the Southeastern United States, and as far north as Pennsylvania. Southern plains and bushytail species are found in Western Canada, the Northwestern United States, and in parts of Texas. Mexican and desert woodrats live primarily in Mexico but can also be found in California, Nevada, and New Mexico, as well. Finally, the dusky-footed and Stephens pack rats live in parts of California.
Woodrats live at various altitudes and survive in diverse climates. They construct homes out of shredded plant material in the ground, trees, and rocky outcroppings. Common habitats include semi-arid brushland, mountain ranges, low valleys, plains, shallow caves, and forests.
While they don't typically enter human dwellings, pack rats sometimes move into infrequently used structures, such as cabins and specialty vehicles. The rodents don't usually nest in yards, either, as their diets are diverse and peculiar. Private property rarely offers them the means of survival they're used to out in the wild. As such, human and woodrat interaction is only sparingly reported.
Even given their limited contact with humans, woodrats are capable of destruction. Some species are pests of the agricultural industry because they debark citrus and other fruit trees. They are also carriers of disease, most notably plague, and vectors for fleas, ticks, roundworms, and botflies. Finally, pack rats often shred upholstered furniture in search of nest materials and gnaw on electrical wires when they take up residence in scarcely-used vehicles.
Means of pack rat prevention are very similar to those of Norway and roof rats. Sanitation is paramount and buildings should be regularly vacuumed. Unnecessary clutter should be removed from attics and basements. Possible points of entry should be sealed by replacing broken window and door screens, adding barriers to chimneys and vents, and calking cracks in the foundation of buildings. Finally, keep vegetation in yards well-maintained so as to cut down on possible nesting places.
Since they carry diseases and are wild animals, pack rats should never be handled by untrained individuals. If there is a woodrat infestation, professionals should be called to deal with the problem. Critter Control technicians have the tools necessary to trap the rodents safely and humanely.
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