The short answer to that question is that a rats nest looks like a hole. The slightly longer but more important answer is that rats tend to make either nests or burrows, and finding, as well as properly identifying those is vital for dealing with the rat problem as quickly as possible.

Rats tend to be highly intelligent, cautious and social animals, which means that their nests or burrows are usually inconspicuous on the outside but are much bigger on the inside.

Of course, there are a lot of different rat species out there, each with their own habits, preferences and even significant size differences. So, depending on what you are dealing with you have to look for different things, but the common key factors are always that a rat’s nest or burrow needs multiple entrances or “holes” and there will be signs of rat presence around it such as scratch marks, bite marks, rat droppings, a lack of spider webs, rat noises, rats nest hair, etc.

To make this simpler, let’s take a look at two of the more common but also largely different species of rats you might have to deal with – Roof rats and Norway rats.

Roof rats

As is evident from their name, they tend to prefer the roof and ceilings our houses. They rarely go to the lower levels of a building and, if they can help it, they can live their entire lives without touching your floors. This can make it harder to capture these animals as you’ll need to place the traps and poison for them on higher and harder to access places but it also means that their nests won’t be on the ground level.

Roof rats are likely to build their nests in your attic, on high support beams, in hollow ceilings, in high and unused cabinetry, or inside your home’s walls. You can also find a Roof rat nest in tree trunks or in other high areas that are overgrown with vines or shrubbery. A larger rat colony will usually have a system of several nests in close proximity to each other and they will move between them frequently. If you are wondering how many rats live in a nest at a time, the answers are in the dozens, depending on the size and the colony. As far as rat babies are concerned, several litters can usually fit inside a larger nest at the same time.

The nests of roof rats is fairly easy to spot as long as you have a direct line of sight to them, as they just look like large nests. These animals are clever enough to place their nests out of sight, however, which is why proper home and garden maintenance is vital – make sure that your roof, ceiling, walls, unused cabinets, as well as the trees in your garden are always well maintained and that you’ve taken the necessary rat prevention measures such as rat traps.

Norway rats

In contrast to their roof brethren, Norway rats are significantly larger and tend to keep to the ground and below-ground levels. In fact, Norway rats view mice, Roof rats, and other smaller rat species as prey and they don’t hesitate to hunt them down and eat them without mercy. And because, like all rats, Norway rats are good climbers, they rarely cohabitate with Roof rats.

As a more ground-dwelling animal, however, Norway rats tend to nest in burrows or holes. Such burrows can be built alongside a building’s foundations, in unkempt and overgrown with greenery areas, or underneath wood or garbage piles. If Norway rats have made their way inside your home you can find their burrows in your basement or in the other lower levels of your home.

So, what does a rat hole look like? The entrance hole to a rat burrow of such a rat will typically be between 2 and 4 inches wide, even though these animals are capable of fitting through even smaller openings. An active burrow will have smooth walls and a clear entrance. There won’t be any debris or spider webs around as the rats will have taken care of them. If you want to know if a whole has an active nest inside of it you can simply put a newspaper or a piece of trash in the entrance hole and see if it will be removed after a day or two.

Rat burrows typically also have more than one entrance, as rats are clever enough to build several hidden escape holes. Inside the nest or the burrow, there will be a series of tunnels and chambers that can be up to several feet long.

Other locations for rat nests

Simply put, rats can set up shop virtually anywhere – in the engine of an inactive car, under a piece of junk in your crawlspace, in a food cabinet, and so on. There are a lot of things in and around our homes that are enclosed enough for rats to live in without them needing to do anything in particular. All rats need from a potential nest is that it’s big enough for their colony or group, that it offers the warmth and relative protection from the outside world, and that it’s close to water and food sources.

And as for the do rats dig holes question, yes, a lot of rat species like to dig holes in veggie gardens just like chipmunks tend to do. On the outside, they can look just like regular holes, but below the ground level, they can extend to intricate tunnel systems that span multiple feet and include large breeding chambers. These tunnel systems can include a lot of hidden entrances which makes dealing with them difficult so proper garden and lawn maintenance is vital.