Humans vs. Rats, How to Effectively Battle Rodents without Poison

Humans vs. Rats, How to Effectively Battle Rodents without Poison

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 17, 2018)

Berkley, MI- Laura Mikulski has been passionate about killing rats since 2012. The Ferndale Rat Patrol founder has all the high risk elements in her own yard – fruit trees, compost, a chicken coop, and a close suburban community full of trash cans and careless neighbors.  Yet she has been determined to prove that in the battle between rats and humans, there is hope that we can win.

There is one key rule of engagement – no poison.  “For one thing, poison doesn’t actually solve the problem,” Mikulski said.  “But it also harms other animals. Owls, hawks and dogs eat rats that have poison in them, and they get poisoned themselves.” Poison can also be carried to other places where pets or kids can get it.  Plus, it just isn’t effective as a stand-alone solution.

At a recent presentation at the Berkley Library, Mikulski taught residents about the invasive creatures, including how to stop them at their source by destroying them in their homes while they sleep and trapping them where they feed.  She also discussed ways of preventing rats by removing the places they like to eat and hide.


“You can only effectively prevent and eliminate rats if you understand them and what they want,” Mikulski said.

The rats in Michigan’s urban areas are Norway Rats, also known as Brown Rats. They are native to China and are invasive in Michigan.  They are unafraid of humans and pets, and in fact they thrive off human trash and pet waste. The only natural enemies of rats are bird like hawks and owls, but there are much more rats than even a healthy bird population can eat.  So, if people want fewer rats, they have to kill them.

Things to know about rat behavior:

~Rats will live anywhere, but they prefer to build homes in the dirt in areas with protection above them, such as concrete, trees, bushes, decks and fences. When looking for locations of burrows and places to lay traps, it’s good to know this.

~Rats can climb, including up bricks and trees.  They will climb trees to get suet.

~Rats cannot see well and they rely on their sense of smell.  They tend to run along buildings and fences to use their whiskers as guides.  They also leave scent trails that they and fellow rats can follow. Cleaning with bleach can help mask the smell of food sources and the trails they use.

~Rats can chew through many things, including cinderblocks, aluminum sheeting, lead, plastic and steel wool.

~Rats can get into openings as small as a quarter.

~Rats can have 6-10 babies at a time, after a gestation period of only three weeks.

~Successful rats come out at night  Rats seen during the day might be dominant males defending their territory, or young rats that have trouble competing for food at night.

~Rats travel 50-300 feet from their nest to find food.

~Rats eat trash, bird seed, dog waste, dropped fruit, other animals, bird eggs, insects, greenry, discarded food and more.

~Rats tend to leave their burrows within one hour of sunset, and return about an hour before. This is good to know for trapping. If you want to double-up on your kill you can snap-trap a bunch at night, then re-set or place new traps before dawn to catch a second round.


Mikulski is not a rat fan, and she gave some reasons why:

~Rats carry diseases

~Rats chew constantly and cause damage to property, including the wires of cars

~Rats carry fleas and ticks that can get on pets and people

~Rats can bite people.  In the United States, 14,000 people are bitten by rats each year


How do you know if you have rats around? Here are some things to look for:

~Rat droppings, which are about the size and shape of rice. Mouse droppings, by comparison, are small and less rounded, about the size and shape of thistle.

~Rub marks.  Rats are greasy and as they run along buildings and other objects, over time they leave a trail of body grease behind.

~Pathways.  Because rats tend to follow the same routes, they can leave trails in the grass and particularly in snow.

~3 hole nests.  Rat burrows tend to have three holes within arm’s length of each other.  One is a main entrance while the other two are emergency exits.  The holes are not clean and round like a chipmunk hole. Chipmunk holes go straight down, but rat holes are at an angle.  Also, Chipmunks make holes in lawns or open areas, whereas rats like the protection of decks, stairs, trees, bushes, woodpiles, sidewalks and fences. Rabbits are another possible backyard creature, but they prefer dug out depressions under decks, garages and bushes.


There are two main components to controlling the rat population – making the environment less desirable for them, and extermination.

Here are some tips to deter them:

~Woodpiles are great shelters for rats.  If you must have one, keep it elevated and check often for signs of infestation.

~Keep garbage in metal cans with well-fitting lids.

~Be careful in your vegetation choices.  Remove bushes or trim the bottoms so there is not low-lying shelter.

~Avoid ground cover and ivy or check regularly for burrows

~Remove dead trees and stumps. Their roots provide great shelter.

~Seal openings around house, especially crawlspaces.  Mikulski recommends using ½ inch hardware cloth going 2 feet vertically into the ground as well as 2 feet horizontally near the surface extending out from the building.

~Eliminate scent trails by pouring a solution of 1pt bleach to 10 pts water on driveways, around trash bins, on trails etc.

~Talk about rat prevention with neighbors and everyone you can think of to spread the word about these tips.


If left unchecked, a pair of rats mating for a year with their children and grandchildren successfully breeding can create a family line of over 2,000 rats in less than a year. For those with the stomach to kill rats, there are two really good ways to do it – traps and burrow bombs.


There are four types of traps: snap traps, electric traps, live traps and glue traps.  Glue traps are not recommended at all since they can easily harm other animals and the rat dies a long and painful death of starvation. Live traps can be effective, but they leave the captor with the task of drowning the creatures. Releasing rats in other areas is not permitted.

This leaves snap traps and electric traps.  Electric traps lure the rat in and kill it with electrocution.  Snap traps send a metal bar crashing down on their necks or bodies, killing them rather quickly.

Traps are most effective when placed in the rat’s path to and from their home.  The best bet for snap traps it to place them against the wall with the bait side touching the wall because that is where the rats run.  For those who are worried about other animals getting snapped, placing a milk crate over the traps helps keep other animals out while rats still have plenty of room to get in.  Peanut butter is generally a good choice to put on the traps.


The most effective way to eliminate rats is to kill them while they sleep.  During the day they sleep in their burrows, usually in groups of about seven to ten rats per burrow.  If the burrow away from a house, trees, wooden fences, garages or other flammable structures, a rodent bomb could be used. This is a stick with a wick on it that when lit gives off a thick smelly smoke that fills the burrow with carbon monoxide and the rats die in their sleep.

If the holes are near flammable structures, dry ice will do the trick. Gloves must be worn to handle dry ice and it must be broken up into small pieces to fit in the holes. Milkuski recommends two pounds of dry ice per hole. Dry ice is solidified carbon monoxide, and as it turns into a gas the rats lack oxygen and die in their sleep.

Whether using dry ice or a smoke bomb, it’s important to cover the holes with dirt after inserting the method of destruction so that the smoke does not escape.


The Ferndale Rat Patrol is a Facebook group where neighbors share information about the rat fighting effort.  The group has over 1,300 members. People from other communities are welcome to join as well.  Mikulski will also be giving a presentation at Madison Heights City Hall on Sept. 27 from 6-8pm.  For more info on the event CLICK HERE.  To join Ferndale Rat Patrol CLICK HERE.

Mikulski’s PowerPoint presentation, which has even more information and pictures, can be downloaded HERE.

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