Rodent Identification: The difference between rats and mice.
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Can You Tell the Difference Between a Rat and a Mouse?

You’ve heard scratching sounds; out of the corner of your eye, you’ve seen something scurrying away; you’ve found little black pellets lying around; or encountered any of the other signs of a rodent problem. Now you need to know exactly what type of rodent you are dealing with so you can begin to figure out how to get rid of the infestation.

Recognizing the difference between rats and mice can be tricky, but there are a few tell ‘tail’ signs that will make the job easier. 

 

Mouse vs Rat

The main difference between these two rodent types is size. A mouse tends to be a bit smaller in weight and length, while a rat will typically be both heavier and longer. The tail on a rat will also be longer and thicker comparatively. Despite their small size, the ears on a mouse will be larger than the ears on a rat. If you have mice in your house, you’ll probably find a larger amount of droppings as they produce much more in a day compared to rats. 

Here’s some further detail on the different identifying characteristics:

Size & Weight

Mice: 

  • Generally smaller body length measuring around 3 to 4 inches 
  • Tail length measuring around the same, 3-4 inches
  • Mice weigh ½ ounce to 3 oz

Rats: 

  • Body length measuring 9-11 inches
  • Tail length measuring around 7-9 inches
  • Weigh between 12 oz to 1.5 lbs

Appearance

Mice: 

  • Larger ears and a smaller head
  • A distinguishing feature is their pointed, triangular snout
  • Fur can be black, grey, or even light brown
  • Long tails that are thin and hairy
  • The color of a mouse tail can be close to the same color as the fur

Rats

  • Little ears
  • Head that is more proportionate to body size 
  • Fur is rough and bristly
  • Tails are thick, hairless, and scaly
  • Rat tails are lighter than the rest of their body, most often pink 

Droppings

Both droppings are dark-colored, but because rats are generally larger than mice, they’ll have larger droppings. Here are some key differences:  

Mice: 

  • Mouse droppings are similar to grains of rice
  • They measure in from around ⅛ of an inch to a ¼ of an inch
  • You’ll see significantly more throughout the day (40-100 droppings)

Rats: 

  • Rat droppings are rounded 
  • They’re the size of olive pits and measure up to ¾ of an inch 
  • You’ll see less throughout the day (20-50 droppings)

Their eating habits differ a bit as mice tend to eat grains, fruits, and seeds, while rats will eat almost anything. The two types of rodents have a similar lifespan and can live up to 30 months.  

Although these traits are useful for determining rat vs mouse, there are other clues that will help you determine the actual type. The 4 most common rodents people encounter are the house mouse, the white-footed deer mouse, the roof rat, and the Norway rat. 

Different Types of Mice Found in Homes

House Mouse

House mice tend to build their nests in burrows. They are nocturnal and very curious; they will investigate new objects in their environment such as traps, poisons, or repellents before deciding whether they should remain in or avoid an area.

This dusty grey rodent’s small black eyes, tiny paws, and large, rounded ears make it a cute little pet, but as household pests, they are more deplorable than adorable. They can creep in through a crack as small as 1/4”, giving it many points of access into your home. It leaves 50-75 droppings per day, which can quickly accumulate and spread disease.

Signs you have a House Mouse:

  • Dark, 1/4” droppings with pointed ends
  • Urine odor
  • Strong musty odor
  • Gnaw marks on wires, plastic, wood, cardboard, and the corners of food containers
  • Paper shredded from books or paper towels (used in nests)
  • 1/2″ rounded hole in wall or baseboards

Habitat: They are found throughout the United States. They often have nesting areas in small, vacant corners behind appliances, inside walls, and in cluttered corners.

White Footed Deer Mouse

Deer mice are hoarders. They will store caches of food in numerous places around their nesting grounds. Hollows inside of a tree, woodpiles, seldom used vehicles, storage sheds, decks, porches, and attics are just a few places they are prone to choose. Nuts, seeds, grains, and berries are their favorite foods.

Also known as a field mouse, this rodent comes in shades of brown from reddish to golden. Its feet and chest are white, and its tail bi-colored. It is slightly larger than the house mouse.

These types of mice prefer the outdoors, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t pests. They can infiltrate barns, grain silos and storage bins, compromising food storage and spreading disease, including the deadly Hantavirus. 

Signs you have a Deer Mouse:

  • Dark, 1/4″ droppings with long, pointed ends
  • Urine odor
  • Strong musty odor
  • Gnaw marks in wooden beams, cardboard, feed bags, and other containers
  • Shredded paper for nests
  • 1/2” clean-cut rounded holes in flooring

Habitat: They inhabit rural and semi-rural areas in the Eastern and Midwestern states. They often build nests and burrows in garages and barns, beneath decks, under tree roots, and even inside cars.

Common Species of Rats Found in Homes

Roof Rat

Roof rats follow tree branches, leaves, and rafters, or overhead pipes, power and utility lines to gain access and maneuver throughout the property. Living in trees has given them a taste for nuts and fruits. They are neophobic, meaning they are afraid of new things in their environment, so they tend to avoid pesticide bait stations or traps.

Hear a scuttling sound in the attic? Chances are you have a roof rat. These dark, slender body rodents have also been called black rats or ship rats, as well as a number of other less-printable names by those who are unhappy to identify one nesting in their home. They often gnaw on wires, causing expensive power outages and electrical shorts.

Signs you have a Roof Rat:

  • Dark, scattered 1/2” droppings with pointed ends
  • Urine odor
  • Strong musty odor
  • Gnawed wires in ceilings, walls, or upper floors
  • Gnaw marks in wood structures, floor joists, wall studs, and corners
  • 2” rough holes in cartons and boxes

Habitat: They inhabit coastal cities and the swampy areas of the Southeast. As their name implies, they generally occupy the upper levels of a home or office building, nesting in ceilings, walls, or attics. They will even build their homes in the dead fronds of palm trees, so it is important to keep landscaping well maintained.

Norway Rat

Norway rats prefer to make their way near ground level, traveling along walls and baseboards, and even through city sewers. They will eat almost anything, from leftover food to trash in an uncovered garbage can. They are also neophobic and will often avoid poisons, snap traps, and glue boards.

These types of rats are also known as house, water, wharf, barn, and sewer rats, though you would hope not to find them in any of these places. Perhaps its most appropriate name is the super rat, as it can reach up to an enormous 16” in length. With a heavy, thick body, blunt nose, small ears, and large, protruding black eyes, they are responsible for inspiring urban legends and mass disgust.

Signs you have a Norway Rat:

  • Dark 3/4″ droppings with blunt ends
  • Urine odor
  • Strong musty odor
  • Gnaw marks on corners, wall studs, and floor joists
  • 2” holes with rough, torn edges in boxes and containers

Habitat: They are found throughout the U.S. and Canada. They create burrows in sewers, basements, and hidden corners in the lower levels of homes, apartments, and commercial buildings.

Packrat

Hold on to your bling, ladies, or this glitter-loving pseudo-rat will add it to his collection. These rodents love shiny objects and will drop whatever they are carrying to pursue a sparkling trinket. They are less discriminating in their gnawing and will chew fruit trees, mattress bedding, furniture, wires, walls, conduits, and paper products. They can cause extensive damage which can lead to serious financial losses for homeowners, commercial real estate investors and farmers.

The packrat, also known as the woodrat, is not a true rat, but a member of the Neotoma family. They are large, fat, and vary in color. They can be distinguished by their large ears, hamster-like body, and furry tail.

Signs you have a Packrat:

  • 1/2″ long oval-shaped droppings
  • Urine odor
  • Musty smell
  • Gnaw marks on trees, furniture, bedding, wires, walls, and containers
  • Missing objects or found collections – Packrats will steal keys, jewelry, mirrors, glass, cans, coins, and other bright trinkets

Habitat: They can be found throughout most of the United States, excluding New England and the Great Lakes area. They often nest under porches, inside ceilings and walls, inside attics and cellars, and in garden sheds

Preventing a Problem Before it Begins

Even once you know how to tell the difference between a rat and a mouse, you’re still going to want to remove them from your space. 

You’ll want to eliminate all potential food sources from your home regularly by consistently cleaning your home. Once cleaned, check out Fresh Cab® (for farms and industrial settings) and Stay Away® Rodent (for homes and personal use) which are botanical repellents that are 100% effective, guaranteed. The pouches are made with herbal extracts, including lavender oil, and other plant fibers which produce a smell that’s offensive to rodents, yet not to humans. Regardless of the specific species, all of these rodents have the same weakness — their overly sensitive sense of smell.

 

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