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Theres more than one way to catch a rat, and when working in an urban environment, pest management professionals need to trap smarter. From bait options and trap placement to catching it all on film, thinking outside the bait box makes trapping more effective.
There is very little virgin territory when youre doing urban rat work, said Timmy Madere, special projects coordinator, pest control specialist, New Orleans Mosquito, Rodent and Termite Control Board. You always have to assume some pest management professional has been there before and theyve tried traps, theyve tried baits, theyve tried everything.
So to catch these conditioned rodents, Madere said that pest management professionals need to go in with a strategy.
Youre basically shooting yourself in the foot a lot of times when you go out to a site and just start throwing stuff down immediately and not taking into account that these animals have been trained for generations of pest control guys going in there and going straight to the big guns when they should be taking their time and approaching it a little differently.
BAIT OPTIONS. Although peanut butter is the go-to bait in the pest control industry, Madere suggests considering other options. Depending on the location of the infestation and the types of rodents, there may be better alternatives.
He said hazelnut spread, frosting, chocolate sauce, taffy and grape jelly can be sweet replacements in locations where people inside the building might be suffering from peanut allergies.
Species to species, its going to be a little different, what bait you use for each, said Madere.
Most species, especially roof rats, are interested in raw leaf spinach, cucumbers, apples, oranges, tomatoes, figs and bananas. He said that these wet baits are perfect for when its hot in the summer, or in a drop ceiling space where there is no water available.
Madere also suggests bacon bits, canned dog food, tuna, beef sticks, shrimp heads and spam as wetter baits, and sunflower seeds, birdseed and dried corn as dry bait.
The problem with these baits, are they do not only attract rodents. Small insects and cockroaches could be getting to the traps before the rats.
If youre going to use peanut butter, use crunchy, because if you get roaches and bugs feeding, at least theyre going to leave behind some of the nuts, said Madere. But sometimes we have to think a little bit differently with our bait options, because youll never catch a rat in an empty trap.
To get around this issue, Madere uses cotton string soaked in vanilla extract, sesame seed oil, bacon grease or tuna juice.
The string is thick and easy to work with, plus it can be used on any trap, making it quick for prebaiting.
Female rodents are also interested in the string as a soft nesting material, but to get at it, they need to get up close and personal with the trap.
Using string bait forces the rodent to interact with the trap more, said Madere. He has to get in there and actually go for the string. Their first instinct is to pull on it, and thats going to set the trap off.
But to get the desired effect the string, or any other bait must be positioned correctly on the trap, said Madere. Dont crumple it and put it in the cup, or arrange it on the back of a Snap-E trap, and to prevent rodents from leaning over the trap to get a lick, try not to concentrate the bait on the back center of the trap.
TRAP PLACEMENT. Even if traps are baited with a rodents favorite bait, if theyre not set up in the correct location, the pests will never find them.
When placing our traps, we need to look for run lines and shadows, said Madere. Thats where theyre going to go naturally, so why not put our traps there.
He said to clean up before starting any trapping work that way its easier to pick out fresh droppings, holes in walls or things rodents may have brought inside with them.
Are the rats running the pipes? Madere suggests Zip-tying the traps directly to them.
Its important where you place the Zip tie on the trap, he said. The trap has to stay stable so it doesnt snap indiscriminately.
He added that T-Rex traps arent great for pipes, because the rodent only has one access point, but there are other traps designed for this scenario, complete with predrilled Zip tie holes.
When placing traps on the ground its tempting to place a trap in the corner, but that means there are two less access points that the rat or mouse has to the trap. Instead, set up two traps on either side of the corner with the trip plate facing the wall to catch two.
Many times, more traps result in more sprung traps, but it is important to watch the proximity so each trap remains effective.
Put your traps too close together and youre working against yourself, said Madere. Ive caught the same rat four times.
When trapping outside, Madere suggests focusing on runs rather than burrows. Many rodents will end up jumping over a trap placed outside the burrow, but will collide head on with a trap on a path they run daily.
Trap placement can even accelerate the prebaiting process. Madere suggests setting up three traps next to each other, one prebaited on each end, and the one in the center set.
Its also important to think about collecting the traps while you place them, said Madere. If a full trap falls down into a wall or an inaccessible corner of the attic, how will you empty it?
BAIT STATION BASICS. Maderes first rule of bait stations is to always read the label first.
The label is law, he said. Before I touch any kind of chemical, I want to know if it is going to hurt me, so I better read the label.
Once the right amount and type of bait is established, its time to select the type of bait station and the bait that goes in it.
Mice like a lower profile box, while rats prefer something a little higher; however, if the box is too big, it could turn into a rat condo. They should come in, eat and leave, said Madere.
There should also be multiple bait types at each station. They need to be rebaited regularly, and the bait that hasnt been touched needs to be removed.
Madere said that the rodenticide should match the bait. Use odors to match the species to what it might want to eat.
It is also beneficial to interchange rodenticide with non-active bait. By using the non-active bait that also helps (the rodent) get over the fear of a food source and if its going to hurt them or not, he said.
Once baited, each station should be placed with the entrance flush to the wall, creating a dark space that the rodents will want to investigate.
1. Use multiple bait options
Madere said pest management professionals should put down the peanut butter and consider other options. Peanut butter is king bait in our industry, and we need to stay away from that for a lot of reasons, Madere said.
Choosing a bait option other than peanut butter is important when working in a space with people who may suffer from peanut allergies, but it also may be more appealing to rats.
Rats, theyre browsers, they want to try a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, he said.
Rats in certain spaces may also be conditioned to associate the smell of peanut butter with pain. Madere said that if a rat approaches a trap and has a close call, possibly losing a vibrissa, that rat will be scared of the trap for an indeterminate amount of time.
2. Use their current food preference as a bait choice at the infested account
My first question when I arrive at a site is, What are they eating? said Madere.
Instead of instinctively reaching for the peanut butter, research each location and use the rats current food source as bait, because the desire to eat that food is passed on from the mother to the pups. Madere said that depending on the location, this could vary from shrimp heads in a seafood restaurant to salt water taffy in a candy shop.
3. Eliminate available food sources
Eliminating all the available food sources can be tricky when dealing with rats, because they often will go after things that have no nutritional value such as candles, toothpaste and even soap. Madere recommends thinking past the obvious, and trying to remove or secure anything that could possibly interest a hungry rodent.
4. Put out plenty of traps
Did you put out a dozen traps at a new location? Well there might be three dozen rats. When you think youve put out enough traps, put out more, said Madere. The more traps you put out, the more youre increasing your chances to catch a rat.
5. Bring the trap to the rat
Bait can attract other pests such as roaches, so its important to place traps where the rats are; otherwise you might bring new pest issues to parts of the building where there was once none. When placing traps, follow signs like rub marks, droppings and gnaw marks.
6. Prebait traps
Prebaiting is a simple concept that has been around a long time and its necessary if you want to trap effectively, said Madere. Start by setting out a few baited traps that arent set, and then wait for the rats to clean out the traps. After two or three consecutive nights of emptied traps, its time to start setting them. Madere also suggests rat pheromones can prevent trap shyness. He found success placing his traps in a tank with lab rats for a few weeks before placing them out in the field. However, the easier trick is adding droppings from other traps they also have the pheromones and are associated with feeding.
7.Always empty and rebait traps
Never forget to come back, empty and rebait traps, said Madere. We want to get those dead animals out. Not only is it the smell and a sanitary issue, its also working against us, he said. If we dont rebait the traps, the effect of prebaiting goes away really quickly.
Madere suggests monitoring the boxes at least once a month depending on the site, because if the rats are not taking the bait, they could actually be nesting happy and healthy inside the box.
In one or two months it could become a nightmare and something that actually makes your rodent problem worse for you, he said.
He also said to place boxes only where you need them, because putting out boxes as a preventative measure could be welcoming new pests like American cockroaches while wasting time, money and bait.
BURROW BAITING. According to Madere, pest management professionals should use pellets exclusively for baiting burrows.
House mice have little pouches and they love to make food hoards, little food stashes, and they will gather up those pellets, he said. If youre a technician and you service houses and you use pellet bait, I almost guarantee you if you look in someones sock drawer youll find a stash of pellet bait.
That pellet bait also looks like candy, which is dangerous to children.
Even when baiting burrows, its still important to be careful with pellets.
I do a lot of it, but I also see a lot of it done incorrectly, said Madere.
Before baiting the burrow Madere uses a flexible ruler to measure the distance inside.
If I cant get in a foot without it collapsing, I dont bait that burrow, he said. If he does bait the burrow, Madere uses a inch or inch length of rubber tubing attached to a funnel to insert the pellets.
Underbaiting and overbaiting are often an issue, he said. Be sure to read the label for the proper rate. Too little will not be effective, and too much will prevent the rats from even getting in the burrow and once you put it in, you cant take it out.
Its very much an art form. You have to be very delicate when youre doing this, because youre trying to be careful to not collapse the burrow, and burrows often have curves and hooks to them, so youre feeling for that as you do it.
When a burrow does collapse, the bait gets spread as the rodents dig out, making for a dangerous mess.
What do you do in that situation? Madere rhetorically asked. You go and clean it up right away or youre in some serious trouble. You dont want to kill a non-target. Thats bad for our entire industry and its just sloppy in general.
CAUGHT ON CAMERA. If youre in the industry and youre working with rats, go out and pick up a few game cameras, suggested Madere.
At about $85 apiece, these cameras open up a whole new world. Although its an art to get the lighting and focus just right, once its correct the infrared and black-and-white images and video can show a pest management professional exactly where the rodents are going and what theyre doing, said Madere.
The cameras give you all kinds of really good information, he said. The pictures can show were the rodents are eating and running, their patterns of activity and what they are doing with the bait.
According to Madere, pest management professionals should place cameras between three and six feet from the area they want to monitor, and should be aware of things like dripping water that could also trigger the shutter.
To adjust the lighting on the camera for the shorter distance, use duct tape on the flash, and if the pests are just too fast for the picture, try placing a brick in their normal path to slow them down.
Each of these strategies is just one piece of the trapping puzzle. To effectively end a rodent infestation, PMPs need to use resources like game cameras and location sweeps; stay up-to-date on the latest bait products; and have a thorough understanding of bait placement.
Time is money, but a little extra time at each site can result in a more successful trap, said Madere.
The author is a Cleveland, Ohio-based writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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