Noises in the Attic at Night
Everything is calm and the kids and pets are finally asleep, and then it starts. You hear scratching noises in the attic. Then you hear it again, and again. Now you can’t sleep. What could possibly be causing these noises in the attic at night? Roof rats! (Most likely.)
Roof Rats in Attics
Yes, we said it. Roof rats. Appropriately named I would say. These rats love getting on your roof and they also love getting inside it. Especially in the winter. That insulation that keeps your family warm at night also keeps roof rats warm at night.
Roof rats are easy to identify because of their long tails, which are longer than the length of their body. They are smaller than Norway rats (thankfully) and measure between 13 to 18 inches in length including the tail. If you see long cylindrical droppings on the insulation or air conditioning ducts, it is likely from roof rats in the attic.
Roof rats are experts at getting into attics. They are great climbers and are often referred to as palm rats due to the prevalence of these types of rats in palm trees. They can cause damage in the attic by chewing through electrical wires and cables, which can result in fires if they are not removed from the attic. They also contaminate insulation in the attic with their feces and urine.
What do Rats in the Attic Sound Like?
The majority of the time we get a call about noises in the attic at night, people automatically assume it is from mice. I haven’t figured out if this is because people would rather have mice and can’t fathom rats in their attic, or if it’s because many people in South Florida are originally from out of state where mice are more prevalent. The vast majority of the time it turns out to be noises from rats though, at least in Florida.
Since rats are nocturnal, you’ll likely hear the noises in the attic at night when they are most active. Rats can be very fast so you may hear it quickly scurrying across the attic. Since they prefer to follow the same runways over time, you may hear frequently hear the noises in the same area of the attic.
If you hear scratching sounds in the attic, it’s because rats like to create nests. While they nest in the attic, they get food and water from outside so they leave and re-enter the attic throughout the night which can create noise in certain areas.
How to Catch a Rat in the Attic
Ok, enough with the roof rats! You may be wondering how to catch a rat in the attic at this point. First thing’s first, there is more than one rat up there. Putting up one snap trap just isn’t going to do it. Often we’ve found there to be between 5-10 roof rats total in and around a home by the time you hear noises in the attic at night.
Also, roof rats are a suspicious bunch. You could put some tasty peanut butter on a trap up in an attic full of roof rats and it won’t be touched if it’s not placed properly. Rats often stick to their runways, usually with one side of their body along a wall or wood, often on the edges of the attic near the roof line.
They also like to run along wires in the attic. A good way to spot their trails is to look for rub marks (greasy black spots created by their dirty bodies rubbing against things repeatedly.) Roof rats also urinate and drop feces randomly along their runways.
So you see a lot of feces and rub marks in a certain area of the attic. Great, you’ve probably found an active runway. Time to get the traps out. Since rats are suspicious of new things and have changing food preferences, we recommend using a variety of traps (wooden traps and plastic traps) and a variety of bait (peanut butter, slim jims, dried fruit.)
If the rats in the attic set your traps off without being caught, they will become trap shy and avoid your traps in the future. So make sure to place them properly along the runways the first time. Since rats often jump over traps, it helps to put two or three in a row.
If you still can’t catch a rat in the attic, it’s likely because they are happy with the food they are getting outside and aren’t interested in the bait you put on your traps. Any successful rat removal requires sealing the entry points on the outside of the house to prevent them from getting back inside in the future. If you seal them inside they will get hungry and will be forced to go for your traps.
Roof Rat Poison
So, trapping isn’t as easy as popping open the attic access and putting a trap inside. At this point, you may considering roof rat poision. Stop considering it. Yes, it will kill some of the roof rats. No, they will not go die outside while searching for water.
We have seen time and again where homeowners or inexperienced pest control companies put roof rat poision and bait in the attic. Then the smells start. By using rat bait inside the house, you have no control over where any rats that eat it will die and decompose. Usually it’s in a wall void or other inaccessible area, causing a very bad smell throughout the house for weeks.
Also, roof rat poison won’t solve the underlying problem of rats being able to gain access to your home and attic. The real solution is to block the entry points on the exterior of your home that roof rats are using to get into the attic. When new rats in the area smell the old rodent urine trails leading towards your home, they will follow those trails and you will hear noises in the attic yet again.
While we never recommend using roof rat poison or roof rat bait inside your home, we DO recommend using it outside of your home in a safe manner once rats are properly removed from the home. With the use of rodent bait stations strategically placed along the foundation of your home, the exterior population will be reduced.
With fewer rats outside, there will be less trying to get back inside. We provide professional installation and maintenance of tamper-proof rodent bait stations for this purpose.
Other Causes of Noises in the Attic
Hopefully with this information you’ve identified the culprit as roof rats and are well on your way to getting the rats in the attic removed and locked out permanently. If the noises you are hearing are clearly from a larger animal, it could be raccoons in the attic or opossums in the attic. We have dealt with both.
With either of these animals, you’ll likely hear larger thumping and walking sounds. Since both have to leave the attic to access food and water, you’ll likely hear at night when that happens.
If you do indeed have these other animals in your attic, we recommend seeking professional assistance or doing in-depth research on how to safely remove raccoons or opossums from the attic.