Roof Rats: Information, Facts, and Pictures

Possessing tremendous agility, roof rats can climb and crawl their way into your home and quickly take up residence. Once inside, they can transmit disease and destroy property.

Also called black rats, ship rats, or fruit rats, they’re one of the most common vermin in the country. Fortunately, protecting your home from these rambunctious rodents is fairly straightforward. Here’s all you need to know:

Facts, Identification, and Control

Here’s a quick look at basic roof rat facts:

Latin Name

Rattus rattus


So, what is a roof rat?

Roof rats are long and thin. Their body (including head) averages about six to eight inches long. Their tails measure between seven and 10 inches. Roof rats usually weigh between five and nine inches, but well-fed ones can reach 12 ounces.

Most roof rats are either dark brown or black. They have black, gray, or off-white belly fur. Their hairless tails are scaly.

Roof rats and Norway rats are the two most common invasive rodents in the U.S. They look an awful lot alike when they’re running across your floor! However, they do have key visual distinctions. How does a roof rat look like compared to a Norway rat?

  • Roof rats have longer tails than Norway rats
  •  Roof rats have darker coloring
  •  Roof rats have sleek bodies
  •  Roof rats climb and swim

Finally, roof rats can jump large distances. They can leap two feet vertically and four feet horizontally. Norway rats stick to running on the ground.

Facts about Roof Rats

Where Do They Live?

Roof rats live life at the top. They spend 90% of their life at least four feet off the ground. Some of the tall locations they like include:

  •  Trees
  •  Power lines
  •  Attics
  •  Upper levels of buildings

They nest in a wide variety of vegetation, including trees, vines, and especially oleanders. These dark hedges provide a cool nesting spot when outside temperatures are high.

Roof rats live across the country but are most common in coastal and southern states. They prefer cooler weather near water.

What Do They Eat?

Forget Ratatouille. Real rats aren’t picky eaters. They’ll eat just about any fruits, nuts, seeds, berries, or insects. They’ll even eat fish right out of the water!

However, roof rats prefer fruit, especially avocados and citrus fruits. They’ll eat fruit right off the tree, leaving behind hanging, hollowed-out rinds. Their preference for fruit and their ability to climb trees set them apart from other rats.
Roof rats forage for food throughout the night but eat the most at dusk and dawn. They prefer to carry food to quiet environments to eat alone.

How Did I Get Roof Rats?

First, the good news: Roof rats are necessarily drawn to your home because it’s messy or dirty. While they certainly don’t mind a mess, they also don’t seek it out. Instead, roof rats look for a few qualities when choosing a place to live:

  •  They like high locations like attics and top floors.
  •  They prefer fruit trees, thick vegetation, and shrubs

Roof rats are often quite happy living outside. However, they will enter dwellings. Common reasons why include:

  • Safety from predators
  •  Nesting opportunities
  •  Relief from hot temperatures

How Serious Are Roof Rat Problems?

Roof rats pose a few potentially serious issues:

Disease and Illness

Roof rats can transmit hantavirus, typhus, hemorrhagic fever, and other serious diseases. They can contaminate areas directly with urine or feces. Plus, they can transmit disease indirectly through fleas.

Additionally, rats can physically attack you. Although they prefer to avoid people, they’re famously aggressive if they feel cornered. Rat-bite fever is a serious illness involving body pain, fever, vomiting, and headaches.

Damage to Structures

Roof rats don’t let much stand between them and a meal. They’re strong, energetic chewers. They’ll gnaw through plastic, lead, carpet, wires, and much more. Unless stopped, roof rats will damage property and structural foundations.

Stress and Anxiety

Rats in your home are a source of constant stress. Are they running across your bed when you’re not there? Are they contaminating your food? The entire experience is gross and upsetting. You’ll likely struggle to rest and relax in your own home.

Lowers Your Home’s Value

Every day a rat lives in your home, the lower its value drops. Even after removing an infestation, signs of a previous rat problem make potential buyers wary.

What Can I Do about Roof Rats?

Roof rat pictures can give you an idea of what they look like, but in real life they’ll move so fast you might see a shadow or streak.

Spotting a rat running through your home is a shocking experience. Where did it come from? What has it touched?

How many others are also inside?

Don’t worry. Rats are no fun, but you can remove them. However, before you start the extermination process, you need to assess your infestation situation.

Signs of a Roof Rat Infestation?

If you see a rat in your home, that’s a clear sign of an infestation. Rats don’t pop in for a visit. Instead, they establish residency. Roof rats don’t go more than 300 feet from their burrows.

Rats are nocturnal. They’re most active during dusk and dawn. If you suspect a rat infestation, you might want to get up early or stay up late to spot them. Keep your eyes peeled up high. Roof rats run across power lines, nest in trees, and otherwise, stay off the ground.

However, rats tend to stay away from people. Even if you have a major infestation, you might not see any rats running around.

Watch for roof rat droppings. They’re brown and capsule-shaped with pointed edges. By contrast, Norway rat droppings have round edges.

Also, watch for gnaw marks around your home. Remember, rats can chew through just about anything. Check baseboards, pipes, drywall, and more.

Roof Rats Prevention and Control Tips

#1 Keep Food Properly Stored

Food is the number one enticement for rats in the wild. If they find food near your house, they’ll eventually try to get inside. If they find a food source inside your house, they’ll take up residence.

Secure all garbage cans with lids. Keep the outside of the cans free from spills and food debris. Even a small bit of food can smell strong enough to attract hungry rodents.

Don’t store inside food in its original boxes, as rats can easily chew through cardboard. Instead, place dry goods in sealed plastic containers. Also, don’t leave food out overnight in the sink or the counter.

#2 Cut Back Vegetation

Don’t let trees, shrubs, or other foliage touch your house. First, rats move into vegetation. From there, it’s all-too-easy for them to enter your home, enticed by warm temperatures and food smells.

Trim vegetation, so it doesn’t press against the side of your home. Also, don’t forget to trim back any tree branches which hang over your roof. Roof rats can easily climb from branches onto your roof and into your attic.

#3 Seal Your Home

Close up any gaps on the outside of your house. Anything larger than a nickel is large enough for a rat to squeeze through. Check the seals around ventilation shafts and pipes.

Don’t forget to seal up all the high access points. You might have to crawl around in your attic and check for any potential entry points. Remember, roof rats are amazing climbers. They’ll find ingenious ways to enter your home.

#4 Use Rat Traps

Baited rat traps are usually the most effective removal method. Place them along rat travel paths. Look for oily, black stains along the baseboard, which indicate areas where rats press against the baseboards. Place two traps back-to-back, so you catch rats running in either direction (rats typically take the same path both to and from their burrow).

Roof Rat Professional Pest Control

If you have an infestation, catching a rat or two with a trap is easy. However, completely removing the residence of rats is often far different. To truly stay rat-free, hire a professional exterminator.

Only a pest control pro can expertly assess your location and locate all the places rats like to live. They’ll dispose of the rats quickly and cleanly, so you don’t have to deal with dead rats in hard-to-reach locations.

More information on roof rats:


What is a Roof Rat?

A roof rat is a common invasive rodent found throughout the world. It’s sleek, sneaky, and prefers living in areas high off the ground.

How Does a Roof Rat Look Like Compared to a Norway Rat?

The roof rat and the Norway mat are the two types most likely to invade dwellings. Roof rats have darker coloring, longer tails, and smaller bodies. Also, roof rats are the only ones who climb walls and live in high spaces.

Roof Rat Guide Final Thoughts

So, what are roof rats? They’re a pest, but infestation can be controlled.

You never want to see rats in your home, especially if they’re climbing walls and running around on power lines. Fortunately, capturing, killing, and preventing roof rats is possible in any home. Keep food contained, seal up outside entryways, and hire a professional pest control specialist to remove those rats for good!