Where Do Rats Live?

Aside from residing in the nightmare of many homeowners, rats also need physical homes like any other animal. So, where do rats live? The easiest answer to this is simple “Anywhere they can find.” Depending on their species, rural or country setting, as well as immediate surroundings and circumstances, a rats colony can set up shop in any location or container that will suit their needs. As for their needs, they are the same as for any other mammal – eat, breed and be safe.

Depending on their species, rats typical form nests or burrows. Burrows is more common for terrestrial rat types such as the Norway rats, while nests are preferred by arboreal rats like the Roof rats. Either type of rat living quarters is flexible in that it can be made in different ways and in different locations, depending on what the circumstances are. That’s why, for example, if your home gets invaded by Roof rats, you can easily find rats in the walls, rats in the attics, rats in the ceiling, or rats in unused high cabinets, rafters, and eaves.

A Roof rats nest is made out of whatever materials the vermin could find – wood, plastic, paper, hair, dirt, and so on. Norway rat burrows, on the other hand, are typically located on the ground and on the lower levels of buildings such as the basement or crawlspace. They also often form their burrows alongside the outside walls of our homes or underneath various types of clumps and vegetation. They can even dig their burrows underneath the edges of a sidewalk or a patio. And yes, rats dig. It’s very common for homeowners to find rat holes in the yard, garden or other outdoor spaces. Rats in the garden and veggie patches are as much of a nuisance as chipmunks are because of how difficult it is to get rid of rats outside.

Virtually any enclosed shelter can be a suitable rat habitat, so don’t be surprised if you find rats in garage or warehouse buildings, as well as in garden sheds or even trash bins. Also keep in mind that rats reproduce extremely fast so finding even a single rat hole in the yard can mean finding rats in house, garage or other living quarters within a week or a month.

Rat in drain pipe

Bilal Kocabas/Shutterstock.com

Where do roof rats live during the day?

Rats are nocturnal animals that do most of their wandering around and feeding during the little hours of the night. This makes it even harder to find, capture or kill them as often we find out about their presence way too late in their reproductive cycle. During the day, rats tend to just sleep and stay safe in their nests or burrows. If you see a rat during the day this probably means that it’s a low-ranking male that hasn’t been allowed by the dominant Alpha to eat during the night. Or it could also mean that you have so many rats on your hands that they are brave enough to go out during the day, which is a much worse option and you should think about rat poison pellets or other killing products as fast as possible. 

In most cases, however, it shouldn’t come to this. As sneaky and cautious as rats are, you should start noticing signs of their presence even if they still keep to their nesting places during the day. Things such as chewing noises or running noises during the night, gnaw and scratch marks, raided food storages, rat excrements, and so on, are all significant signs that should point you in the right direction where to place a rat trap cage even if you haven’t seen a single rat during the day yet.

How big are rat nests and burrows?

On the outside, a rat nest or a burrow can often seem inconspicuous – it may be just a tiny hole in the yard, on a tree, in the roof or in a wall. On the inside, however, rat burrows and nests can consist of an intricate tunnel network that’s multiple feet long and that has separate living chambers of up to 15 – 20 inches depth. If you have rats in your garden, chances are that there are rat tunnels underneath the entire garden. If instead, you have Roof rats in your walls, you might find out that they’ve chewed their way through the inside of every wall in your home. And yes, this should answer the common question of “Can rat chew through walls?”

The size of their nest and burrows means that even in a single nest there can be up to several dozen rats at a time. Typically, the main reason why rats leave their nests and look to establish new ones isn’t due to overpopulation but simply the need for male rats to form new harems and establish their own colonies. Rats are patriarchal creatures by nature with one dominant male rat ruling over multiple females at once and preventing males from mating. This doesn’t mean that there is only one male per rat nest, however, as other males can also accompany the group, but they are typically not allowed to mate and are regarded as the lower caste in the colony. These are typically the animals you’ll notice first as they are more likely to go looking for food during the day.

Aside from impressing with their size, rat burrows, and nests and also often fascinating thanks to their structure. Rats are highly intelligent animals and they know better than to just dig a single hole entrance to their burrow. Most rat burrows will have one main “entrance” (which will usually be the first one you notice) and multiple hidden and smaller emergency exits at its other side. This is why gassing and poisoning rat nests can be difficult because the little vermin typically have an exit strategy.

As far as the nests of arboreal species such as Roof rats, depending on their location they might be smaller. It’s easy to create a large nest if the rats have free access to your roof, but if they need to nest on a tree, they are more likely to set up a network of multiple smaller nests and just travel between them frequently.

Where do rats set up their nest and burrows?

As we said, the short way to answer that is “anywhere they can”. Rats reproduce extremely fast and they are savvy when it comes to creating entire burrows and nests from seemingly unsuitable situations. As a rule of thumb, however, a typical rat nest or a burrow needs to be well sheltered and protected, and it needs to have quick access to food and water. Rats need to eat and drink daily or they will die rather quickly, especially in hotter climates. Fortunately for them, towns and cities offer a lot of feeding and drinking grounds.

A typical rat will prefer to travel no more than 50 to 300 feet per day to reach its food and water sources, so it is possible for rats to form their nests outside of your yard and property and to still manage to raid your home every night. That’s way you need to hide bait in sealed boxes, to be safe from rat attack. However, if they have found a way into your home, chances are that they won’t miss the chance to set up a nest or a burrow directly in it as well. They may be intelligent and cautious, but they are also opportunistic and insolent.

If need be, rats can travel more than 300 feet to their food or water source, of course, but they tend to avoid that out of fear of exposure. Humans are far from the only animals that attack and exterminate rats on sight – the list also includes dogs, cats, birds, even lizards, and snakes. Anything that’s large enough will either prey on rats or aim to drive them away, which is why the closer they can set up their nests or burrows to their food and water sources, the faster and easier than can reach them and thus – minimize their exposure.

Depending on their species, on whether they are in a rural or country setting, as well as on local climate and physical circumstances, rats can live in nests and burrows created in seemingly impossible locations. In roofs, ceilings, walls, kitchen cabinets, wardrobes, basements, crawlspaces, garages, warehouses, garden sheds, mere piles of wood, stone or trash, trash containers, below ground in garden holes and in tunnels below patios and stone paths, as well as in trees like squirrels – rats will not hesitate to live anywhere they can, as long as it’s close to food and water sources, as well as it offers them sufficient protection from predators.

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