Are Pack Rats Really Rats?
As a kid my dad would look in my bedroom and jokingly call me a “pack rat.” It’s a phrase we often attribute to an accumulation of stuff, especially when it tends toward outright ‘hoarding.’ But where does that phrase and its associating come from?
Pack rats really exist, and they do quite well in Washington state. “Pack rat” is a name given to a subfamily of rodents known for gathering items in their nest. The predominant species in Washington is the Bushy-tailed Pack Rat and it is not a rat in the common sense we normally think of.
Pack-rats are, also known as “trade rats” and “wood rats,” don’t have a naked tail as our all too friendly Brown rats and Roof rats that so often live in or next to our houses, given the chance. Our local pack rat has a busy tail and looks a bit like a chinchilla. It is mostly nocturnal and does not hibernate.
So they’re rather pretty, even cute, but don’t let that fool you. They want your stuff! Pack rats are known for gathering much more than pinecones and sticks. In fact, they’ll immediately drop whatever they’re carrying should they find something shiny, like a coin or a piece of dinnerware. This is where the name “trade rat” comes from—they will trade one thing they are carrying for anything more delightful along the way.
Pack rats are infamous for steeling camping gear, tools, and anything “interesting” that is man-made. So they definitely have a penchant for hoarding items and “packing” them back to their “midden.” Their midden is a pile of debris that can be taken over by other pack rats over many years. And the debris items have been studied, finding some of them to date back as much as 50,000 years, allowing scientists to study changes in vegetation and climate.
Pack rats may nest within their midden, however they often nest in nearby separate location. While most pack rats find a hollow place to nest, often in the holes of rock piles, those living in forests have been known to nest as high as 50 feet up a tree.
Experience with Pack Rats
My personal experience with a pack rat wasn’t so pleasant. I had gotten used to a few tiny droppings of mice here and there in a cabin. But when I happened upon large droppings in every room of the cabin and on each and every piece of furniture – it was just too much!
I learned quickly that pack rats can and will take over a large space leaving filth everywhere I looked. On top of that this little beast had no issue gnawing on and ruining several pillows and couch cushions. But where was it?
Over time I was able to live trap the pack rat and let it go. But I had to find out where it had gotten in or it would soon return. Just like any other ‘rodent proofing’ or ‘exclusion’ I had to look everywhere from the crawlspace to the attic, including every possible gap at the bottom edge of the siding and vents near the eaves. Eventually, the hole was found and sealed.
Pack Rats are Real
Pack rats are definitely real. And they are here in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, pack rats can readily be found in the rural areas outside of greater Seattle, Tacoma and all of the Puget sound—particularly in the foothills and close to mountains.
Pack rats may not be your typical “rat,” but should you encounter one in your home it can cause a lot of damage and filth and cause you plenty of headaches.
If you encounter a pack rat in your home:
- Try to be patient, if you can, knowing it’s part of living so close to nature.
- Start cleaning up the mess.
- Call a professional—for trapping and for proper rodent exclusion to keep them and others out – for the long term.