Unnatural act of the day

There are rats under our floor.

I don't care about that, per se. I think it's cute when I put the mouldy end of a bread-loaf in the compost bin and the next day the inside of it's all been eaten out into a cosy little cave-of-food.

(Anne does not think this is cute in any way at all.)

I think rats are cute too, even ordinary brown ones that want to bite you.

(Anne believes I may need to adjust my medication.)

Unfortunately, though, the rats keep weeing conductively on important parts of the heating system, and chewing other important parts of it.

There are four cats in this house.

So a solution suggests itself.

But that would (a) mean, at best, slow death by torture for little fuzzy creatures which I do not want to eat and (b) expose our own precious furry child-substitutes not only to the risk of loss of self-esteem, should they find themselves unable to catch even the doziest rats, but also to the dangers of the outdoors. Never mind being hit by cars; for all we know, there's some toxic something-or-other growing somewhere around the house that killed poor Mickey.

So from now on, no cat of ours goes outdoors unless escorted by at least six Secret Service agents.

But the rats have got to go.

So I purchased no-kill traps (from this guy; the traps are cheap and work fine, but they come flat-packed and must be cable-tied into shape). A bit of peanut butter on bread for bait, and bang, one rat was caught in almost no time.

Into the car (on some newspaper...) the trapped rat went, and he or she and I enjoyed a brief but stimulating drive to Kingsford Smith Memorial Park, from the verges of which the rat has by now almost certainly darted into somebody else's house.

When I got back, re-baited the trap and set it up again, I found a rat in the other trap.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

When I took that second trap back down, the first one was still empty. So I presume we have now caught the two stupidest rats, and will never catch another.

Perhaps we should get a goanna, or something.

39 Responses to “Unnatural act of the day”

  1. Matt W Says:

    I don't think the lizards / pythons eat often enough. Unless you could get a flock of them...Hmmm ranching goannas...

  2. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    Worth continuing the trapping, of course - I'm not sure there is another humane solution to your rat problem. At least, not without fumigating the entire house and then living with the stench of rat corpses under your floorboards.

  3. Erik T Says:

    Cats are ill-equipped to deal with rats anyway. Mice, yes. Rats, no.

  4. Erik T Says:

    Unless it's, say, a cougar.

  5. Daniel Rutter Says:

    The two that blundered into the traps only had a body length of about four inches. Maybe five, at a pinch. I don't think any cat that had its act together would have much trouble killing them.

    This probably, of course, excludes our wimpy indoor cushion-creatures, and also Tom. If I had to place a bet I'd say that Millie had the best chance of being able to kill something, but I think Lulu, the smaller and braver of the ginger twins, could also be a killer-in-waiting.

    You do need a proper bad-ass housecat to deal with really big rats, though. There was a big black and white cat called Smokey who lived next to where we used to go for holidays.; He was definitely the kind of cat you want if you've got a vermin problem. On one occasion I saw Smokey have a fight with a hailstorm.

    Once, there was a huge weird leggy-antenna-y insect in the house, and while I was glumly considering finding an ice-cream container big enough for it and slamming the container onto it fast enough that the bug couldn't leap to one side and then stab its ovipositor through my eyeball, Smokey bumped the door with his head. As was his habit when he wanted to say hello to me.

    So I just opened the door.

    Smokey had line of sight to the bug, and instantly sprinted straight in and ate it, crunch crunch crunch, without even half a second of playing time.

    That's the kind of cat you need if you've got a rat problem.

    (Smokey was also a big fan of bogong moth swarms. Swat, munch, swat, munch, swat...)

  6. LucusLoC Says:

    The lurker is back, this time with a not quite so contrivesal subject ( at least I hpoe not :-)

    Cats can be down right evil creatures. I grew up on a farm (well, sort of) and we used to have a metric ass load of cats, mostly wild ones, but a few tame ones as well (our rodent population was aproxamtly 0).

    One of them I used to cathch gophers for (mostly from the orchard area, where the cats seldome went). Her name, uniterestigly enough, was Blackie. She was black. Not only her fur, but I'm convinced her little feline heart was black as a cloudy moonless midnight in a coal mine as well. She would play for endless houres with the rodents I brought her (by that time she was far to old to hunt). Usualy she would end up eating them. The less fortunate ones she would let go. I would usualy have to put the poor beasties out of their missery after I found them on the lawn.

    This one paticular time I remeber most vividly (it is not for the feint of heart, you have been warned). It was shortly before she died at the ripe old age of 26(!). I had caught a gopher and broght it to her in a bucket. She must have been feeling her age, because all she did was -peal off its skin- and let it go. Literaly slit it down the back and peald it off. At first I though she was going to skip the plesantries and just eat it, but that was not the case. The thing ran for about 20 feet and died right before I got to it with a shovel. It looked like it was running with its pants around its feet. Very disturbing.

    Our dog Laddie disposed of the remains. He was a big male lab. We were not clever with names at all.

  7. LucusLoC Says:

    Incidentaly, anyone know of a good spell cecker for blackberries? Mah spellin's not so ghud.

  8. Stuart Says:

    Are you mad? (I appreciate the irony in both asking the question and in me asking it.)

    There is a reason they are called "vermin". They are an introduced species, they kill local species and compete for their food. Do not release a live rat back into the environment (well, not if you actually care about it). You wouldn't take garbage and dump it in a park (I suppose and hope) - so don't make an exception on account of it still having a heartbeat.

    Non lethal traps? I don't think so. Kill them all, as swiftly and mercilessly as possible.

  9. Stuart Says:

    Oh, just to clarify - when I say "care about", I'm referring to the environment. Not the rat.

  10. Chui Hsia Says:

    Hey cool, you have a blog! You even posted to it tomorrow, my time (I'm still in Brussels). I was trying to remember the name of that Japanese small car company that had really weird model names. What was it again?

    [Mitsuoka! -Dan]

  11. MichaelWright Says:

    Yeah, most cats don't do rats. I once came home to discover that both my partner on life's journey, and our then cat, had put an SEP field round a rat that had run up a curtain. It was a pretty brave rat, but: when I tried to shoo it out of the house, it stood at bay against me. OTOH, another cat once leapt in through a window, proudly displaying a huge rat it had caught, still alive. Some cats will catch rabbits.

    How would the right sort of snake do? Are there any appropriate ones in the Blue Mountains.

  12. Mark Cocquio Says:

    Way to go... we have one of those humane rat traps too. You'll get them all in the end.

    Stuart - there are such things as native rats too, and they can be fairly hard to tell apart from the introduced ones at a glance... better not to kill things if in doubt.

    (I think the difference is in the tail from memory).

    Or at all, for that matter; a couple more introduced rats aren't exactly going to make a difference now that the cat is out of the bag.

    My only other comment - make sure you wash your hands and the trap pretty well. Rat piss can carry some pretty nasty viruses...

  13. Thuli Says:

    We are apparently having a rat plague in my local council area, at least according to the local paper. First my landlord had one, then I got one as well. Nothing quite as satisfying as seeing its dead eyes bugging out at me the morning after I put the trap out. Ours didn't like peanut butter though. Apple & cheese did the trick.

  14. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Peripherally relevant.

    (Don't forget to hover your pointer over the red button.)

  15. Thuli Says:

    Heh, and to think I used to have pet rats...

  16. Red October Says:

    Cats are awesome. We used to have mice, and tried the humane trap thing, to no luck. Eventually we went for lethal traps but they were a pain, as mice are apparently picky and will only take to fresh bait. Then a couple years back we were given a pair of cats. We haven't seen mice since, except once, when Rusty, the big fat oaf of a cat who whines for biscuits as if he'd not been fed for months, nailed one in the living room and eviscerated it with his back claws whilest holding it in his front. They periodically request to go into the cellar, and after a time be let up. As I said, we haven't seen but the one mouse.

    I'm not sure how to introduce your cats to your rats, though, as if I understand correctly your house doesn't have a cellar as such. (There's a question... most houses in the Northeast USA have a cellar/basement of some sort, usually with inside access. In other areas it is much less common. What is the usual arrangement in Australia?) I must admit, though, a Goanna would be awesome.

  17. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Australian houses almost never have basements. The foundations just go straight into the ground. This is the norm in places where the ground never freezes and so foundations don't need to be below the frost-line to avoid damage - basement-less houses are also fairly common in the warmest US states, though Americans kind of expect to have a basement and so houses often have them even when it's not structurally necessary.

    Instead of a basement, Aussie houses normally just have a crawl-space under the house, with one or more little doors leading into it from the outer walls.

    (This space exists in a hypertrophied form in the "Queenslander", which is raised into the air for hot-climate ventilation.)

    Our house has one door to the crawlspace, and one open doorway, so we'd have to close that off if we wanted to cut a hatch in the floor to let the cats down there. But we don't much want to do that, if only because there's a lot of loose glass-fibre insulation and other crud there.

    At least the rats probably wouldn't come up into the house (unless brought in by a cat, of course). Rats that don't have a toxoplasma infection usually steer very clear of anywhere that smells of cats.

    (I've considered just putting a used litter tray or two under the house, to see if that scares the little buggers off for a while.)

  18. Jono4174 Says:

    "So from now on, no cat of ours goes outdoors unless escorted by at least six Secret Service agents."

    Ha! Killing stuff is the only way for a cat to impress its owner.

  19. Ruklaw Says:

    I used to live in the upstairs flat of a terraced house. The lady downstairs had a small garden, with a birdfeeder, which a squirrel broke into, scattering the contents all over the floor.
    Within a few hours, an entire family of rats (two big and ugly, 3 small, cute and mousey) were feasting, in broad daylight as we watched from our window.
    Guess who else was watching? Next doors cat, sat on the wall not 3 metres away from the rats, licking itself and generally looking entirely disinterested (although obviously aware of the rats!)
    It didn't matter how many times I tapped on the window, and told the cat to eat them, the cat totally ignored them. Fortunately, I never had to empty the humane traps I subsequently ordered- they must have moved on.

  20. Major Malfunction Says:

    I'm with Stuart, Dan.

    Why don't you just take a boot-load of rabbits, foxes, carp, cane toads, fire ants, prickly pear, blackberries, serrated tussock, etc., next time you make a *humane* visit to your municipal dumping-grounds? Might as well chuck in some bags of domestic rubbish for good measure. Make sure they don't get hungry...

    I'm disappointed in you. I thought you were canny.

  21. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Why don’t you just take a boot-load of rabbits, foxes, carp, cane toads, fire ants, prickly pear, blackberries, serrated tussock, etc.

    Great Scott, you're right! That is exactly the same as two rather small rats. I am enlightened.

    Jesus, man, I didn't go and lob 'em into the National Park. I took them further into suburbia than they were when they were here.

    I think the fragile native animals in and around the Kingsford Smith Park may be slightly more concerned about the scores of outdoor cats that wander the area nightly. As, I suspect, will be the rats.

  22. Major Malfunction Says:

    Argumentum ad Arlo Guthrie, aka "Alice's Restaurant".

    "...at the bottom of the cliff there was another pile of garbage. And we decided that one big pile is better than two little piles, and rather than bring that one up we decided to throw our's down."


  23. rocketfire Says:

    Rats are quite amazing - they can live permanently in industrial freezers eating frozen food. Their fur/hair is so amazingly soft.

    In Thailand the locals in the rice fields catch rats, stitch or superglue their butts then release them. They go crazy and keep killing other rats around them until they themselves expire.

  24. Itsacon Says:

    In Thailand the locals in the rice fields catch rats, stitch or superglue their butts then release them. They go crazy and keep killing other rats around them until they themselves expire.

    I can't decide if that's the funniest or the most sadistic thing I've ever heard...

  25. kamikrae-z Says:

    Dan, if you feel like experimenting/reviewing, can I suggest these: http://www.humanemousetrap.com.au/

    They're cheaper than the wire ones and you should be able to get them at your local Bunnings. My understanding is that the trap will suffocate them when the door closes unless you punch a small hole in it, although it's unclear from that site. I should mention that I haven't tried any of these, our main problem seems to be possums (one died in our roof at the height of summer last year, right above my bedroom. Lovely aroma!).

    Also, just be glad they're under the house rather than in the walls (only for those with strong stomachs):

  26. matkun Says:

    Sounds like they are trying to make rat kings.

  27. Stark Says:

    Ah ha! There's your problem.... you have cats! Cats are only occasionally good for rat problems. Small Terriers however, are excellent. Doesn't seem to matter much which variety of terrier you go with - they all are hell on wheels when it comes to rats. We had a small bull terrier when I was a boy - moved into a house that turned out to have quit the rat problem.... until the Fooch (the terrier) took note of them anyhow. He wiped em out in short order. I've talked to many other terrier owners to see if maybe this behaviour was limited to old Fooch (he was a strange little dog) but I am told that it is a common thing. If you can find an aptly named Rat Terrier puppy around they make excellent pets and will most assuredly rid you of your rat problem.

  28. unfunk Says:

    I too, think rats should be allowed to live peacefully on their own. Sure, if they're becoming a nuisance by eating your food, chewing on your wires and the like, then they should be... encouraged... to move on, but if a pet cat's not going to go for them, humane traps are the way to go.

    Of course, I say this because I have pet rats of my own, but they're safely locked up in a cage... and the neighbourhood cats keep breaking in to visit them!
    Rats are severely maligned creatures, IMO... once you've spent some time with a domestic one (which is, incidentally, a different subspecies to the wild ones), you'll never even consider using a lethal trap again. They're like what you would end up with if you could somehow cross a cat with a dog; amazingly intelligent, wonderfully affectionate, endlessly entertaining, extremely cuddly, and they can be fiercely loyal.

    ...it's mostly a guy thing, I've found... the ladies don't seem to understand Rats as pets :(

  29. Thuli Says:

    Not so, I used to have two domestic rats as pets, didn't prevent me from being quite pleased to see the little wild vermin who'd been gnawing on my fruit bowl dead as a doornail in the trap. It's illegal in australia to release a live trapped rat, for a reason.

  30. Red October Says:

    Thanks for the enlightenment about Aussie houses. Basementless would've been my guess but it's always nicer to know. Expecting a basement is all fine and dandy most of the time, but I knew of a family who upon moving to Florida, commissioned a house with a second story. Not only were the builders usnure of just how to go about doing this, as single-level dwellings were the norm for all but the largest of houses in that area (due to heat build-up and the requirement for large air con units to balance it out), but when they went to make use of the upstairs bath tub, it fell through the floor. Now I only knew these people distantly so I've know knowledge of the quality of the builders, but it goes to show...

    Oh yeah.. rats... rats... Yeah, I suppose see what they think of the litter pan! Sharp idea!

  31. LucusLoC Says:


    Rat terriers do indeed seem to be good for killing small vermin. Some friends of ours have 3 that kill more than their 4 cats. terriers also have a tendency to be less. . . generous. . . than the cats. Which is good, because you don't have to worry about small, cold bodies in the sheets.

    Every now and then, though, you get a dud. Our rat terrier, Jake, is absolutely terrified of mice and gophers.

  32. derrida derider Says:

    Not to join in the abuse, Dan, but it really is not a Good Thing to release feral pests.

    You're most unlikely to have caught a native rat (Rattus fuscipes) - they are extremely shy and prefer dense bush to suburbia. Feral cats and competition from black rats (Rattus rattus) and Brown Rats (Rattus norvegicus) have made them moderately rare anyway. So your rats are almost certainly another gift from Europe to the Australian environment.

    Exterminate the brutes, I say.

  33. FatSteve Says:

    Rats also eat house wiring. Dan once posted a photo of what a rabbit did to a bunch of PC cables. In the UK rats are said to cause 7% of house fires due to damaging the wiring.

    Dan, you want to be rid of those creatures.

  34. tomsk Says:

    Cats can be extremely effective rat-killing machines, Victorian rat-catchers used to use them all the time for exactly that purpose, and they're better than terriers because they're small enough to get right inside the guts of a building and really chase the vermin about, but they're big enough to take out the largest rats. There's a good account of the techniques involved in using cats to kill rats in Ike Matthews's memoir of his life as a rat catcher.

    The problem with most house cats is that they're too soft, they've had such an easy life that they lack the killer instinct of, say, a real working farm cat. But then, you'd not really want a mean old farm cat as a pet.

    One of my cats brought in an immature brown rat once, and had no idea what to do with it once it was indoors. We spent a day chasing it about under the fitted kitchen cabinets before we could get rid of it. They're completely different from the more usual mice, shrews and voles, fearless and aggressive, and incredibly fast. Really hard to catch.

    I have to say that I do think that you should really get the rats destroyed rather than releasing them. I don't know about your area, but in some places it's illegal to do otherwise. For all that I think rats are amazing animals, and domesticated ones make great pets, they are destructive vermin, not to mention the fact that they are host to all sorts of entertaining pathogens that you really don't want to expose yourself or anyone else to.

  35. Bern Says:

    Don't think I've ever seen any of our family cats catch a rat. Mice? Yup. Including a rather astounding 3-second pursuit & capture by our old white cat (named Snowy, what else!) about three weeks before he succumbed to terminal skin cancer at the age of 17. We had another ginger tabby who caught a fairly sizeable flying fox, and his brother sadly passed away shortly after dispatching a four-foot brown snake.

    Our current cats are kept indoors & in our screened courtyard (for their safety and that of the local wildlife), so they only get to hunt the occasional lizard or grasshopper that foolishly blunders into their lair.

  36. frasera Says:

    rats need to die. they piss and sh*t as they wander your house. it is totally unacceptable. they aren't endangered, best to use the snap trap, nothing works quite as well

  37. unfunk Says:

    I know, it's completely uncivilised! They should learn how to use the toilet, for crying out loud!

  38. Jonadab Says:

    On the one hand, just because a kind of animal is domesticable does not imply that you necessarily must deal gently with the ferral ones. Domestic dogs are widely regarded as just about the best pets in existence, but wild dogs (coyotes, dingoes, whatever you call them) in a metropolitan area are bad news, and the usual method for dealing with them involves trained professionals with firearms.

    On the other hand, rats (especially of the size you're talking about, barely larger than field mice) are not nearly so dangerous as wild dogs, and much more common, so if you prefer to live-trap them and take them across town, hey, whatever. Somebody will probably call an exterminator on their offspring sooner or later, but it's not like you're introducing something that wasn't around in fair quantity already. Once you've got rats on a given continent, you're pretty much always going to have rats. That is to say, a "conservation status" of "least concern" is generally another way of saying, "we probably couldn't cause the extinction of these things even if every human on the planet agreed on it as a goal."

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