Roof Rat

The Kansas City area is not in the normal distribution pattern of the roof rat (Rattus rattus), but is seen often enough here to be worthy of mention.

Roof rats are occasionally brought into the Kansas City area via freight shipments from their established area throughout the Gulf coast. Unless they are able to find continuous shelter, they will not survive winter this far north.


Roof rats, or black rats, come in a range of colors, primarily -- as the name suggests -- black or very dark brown, but also various shades of brown, gray, beige and white. They have slender bodies and pointed faces. Their tails are hairless and as long as, or longer than their head and body. On average, they are a little smaller and more sleek than Norway rats. Black rats average about 6 to 8 inches in length, excluding tail, while brown rats reach about 7 to 10 inches. In both species, males are larger than females, although the females may be more aggressive.

Behavior and Reproduction

These rats are highly social and live in groups consisting of several males and several females. They establish a complex hierarchy and communicate with scent, body language and a range of vocalizations, most of which are inaudible to humans. They reproduce rapidly. A female matures at about 3 months and can then have a litter every two to three months thereafter, with litters of up to 12 pups at a time.

Habitat and Diet

Roof rats are climbing rats and where found in the Kansas City area, they will seek the upper floors and attics and will often cohabit a building with Norway rats, which will live in basements or on the lower levels. Black rats are omnivores that eat practically anything nontoxic, although they seem to prefer plant foods such as fruits and grains to animals such as insects.

Signs of Infestation

To get rid of roof rats and prevent them from entering a home, seal up any holes or cracks larger than a quarter with silicone caulk. Although there are no completely foolproof methods to prevent roof rats coming into your home, there are a few ways to make your dwelling an undesirable place.

Here are some tips:

Trees: Dissuade the roof rats from climbing onto your home by keeping your trees and plants well groomed and a good five feet away from the house. This is especially true with fruit or vegetable plants; keep a good distance between them and your dwelling – you may even consider setting traps around the trees.

Food: If you own pets or livestock, make sure that the food is securely inside for the night.

Cleanliness: In general you will need to upkeep your house and yard by not keeping piles of garbage, wood, soil, etc., close to the house. This also includes building maintenance; fix leaks, holes, and tears immediately to prevent them from getting bigger and being an attraction to the rats.

Traps: Preferable to poison, there are bait and snap traps that can help eliminate the number of roof rats you have. The traps should mirror the rats’ climbing ability by placing them vertical, near electrical wires, on roof beams, or in attics.

Poisons: Should be a last resort and installed only out of doors, in securely fastened tamperproof bait stations.