Don’t know a mouse from a rat or a groundhog from a gopher? Most people don’t. This kind of detailed information isn’t typically regarded as all too important—until it is. When something’s burrowing in your garden or you spot droppings in a cupboard, you need to know which rodent is the culprit—or, if it’s even a rodent at all. Learn more about these 7 common animals so you can know exactly what you’re dealing with if you think you have a problem. Or, simply so that the next time someone asks you, “What is a rat?” you’ll know exactly what to tell them. Rodent trivia is a thing, right? (In which case, you’ll love what you learn about moles. Here’s a hint: They’re not really rodents!)
Photo credit: Shutterstock/Erni
What Is a Mouse?
Mice have been living alongside humans for 15,000 years. Our long relationship with these pesky nuisances seems here to stay, but with the potential to transmit parasites and diseases, it’s best we keep our distance. Discover their habits and how to keep mice out of the house.
- Common species: House mouse and deer mouse (also known as the white-footed mouse)
- Size: 5-7 inches long, including an almost hairless tail half the size of their body
- Weight: Only 0.5 to 1 ounce Colors: Light brown, medium brown, or dark gray
- Noises: High-pitched squeaks, as well as scurrying and scuffling noises
Mouse Habits & Preferences
- Mice like human food, especially cereal, bacon, butter, meats, and sweets.
- They’re curious and will quickly detect and investigate new objects (including bait stations).
- Mice are nocturnal, though they can be active during the day (if you see any during the day that’s often a sign of a large infestation).
- They are very territorial, usually staying within 30 feet of their nest.
- Mice prefer to nest near heat sources like ovens, refrigerators, and water heaters.
- Mice can squeeze through openings smaller than a dime.
- They can jump, climb, run, and swim.
- Mice have a keen sense of smell and acute hearing.
- Mice can chew through walls, floors, wood, furniture, paper, plastic, cardboard, clothing, and electrical wiring.
- They typically contaminate 10 times the amount of food they eat.
- Their urine not only smells awful, but it also stains and contains harmful diseases like their droppings.
- Be careful when handling these! Learn how to handle mouse poop to dispose of it safely.
- Mice can leave claw marks on cabinets and walls.
- They can agitate your family pet.
How to Mouse-Proof Your Home
Mice are all about food and shelter. Taking those things away is the first step in minimizing a mouse problem. After that, you’ll want to reduce their population, and make a few small changes around your home to keep mice from coming back.
Close off access points. Remember that mice can sneak into the tiniest of openings. Take the time to get down on your hands and knees and look for them. Use a step stool and a flashlight to search higher up. Look closely around doors and windows, as well as around pipes and vents. Use caulk, expanding foam, or copper mesh to plug up gaps and holes.
Store items securely. That box of cereal isn’t safe if mice are lurking in your cupboards. To see what needs securing, put on your mouse goggles and look at everything in your home as they would: a potential source of food or nesting material.
- Switch any cardboard boxes and cloth storage cubes to heavy-duty tubs.
- Secure your cereals, grains, baking chips, and other kitchen morsels in air-tight jars or containers.
- Transfer animal food, like bird seed and pet kibble, to metal buckets or plastic bins with secure lids.
- Pack up important papers, extra linens, family heirlooms, holiday decor, or other items you don’t use that often and place them in rodent-proof storage trunks.
- Keep any storage solutions off the ground and away from walls.
Keep clean. Since mice have such a sharp sense of smell, don’t let dirt or uncovered trash linger too long. Wash, wipe, sweep, and pick up everything from water spills to crumbs to last night’s dinner plates. While you’re at it, add a little something extra to repel mice. They detest the smell of peppermint. Place oil-soaked cotton balls or mint-scented sachets around the kitchen, or Tomcat® Repellents Rodent Repellent Continuous Spray around the entry points every month (be sure to read and follow the directions). It’s formulated with essential oil scents that mice hate but safe for use around kids and pets.
Eliminate hiding places. Keeping things tidy indoors is key, but eliminating hiding spots around the perimeter of your house will help, too. Move wood piles away from the house, check under the hood of a rarely used car, store furniture cushions in a heavy-duty tub with a tight-fitting lid, and keep your compost bin 100 feet away. Get rid of any clutter or debris. Less mess, fewer nests!
Place bait stations. Dark-colored droppings about the size of a grain of rice are a clue that you may have mice. Don’t ignore the clue. Instead, use those droppings as a marker for placing bait stations along the walls and corners where mice are likely traveling. A bait station like Tomcat® Rat & Mouse Killer Child & Dog Resistant, Disposable Station comes pre-filled, so there’s nothing for you to do but place and wait. Or, for a reusable option, try Tomcat® Mouse Killer Child and Dog Resistant, Refillable Station. Both can be used indoors or outdoors.
Photo credit: Shutterstock/Billion Photos
What Is a Rat?
Rats in a lab are helpful creatures; we can thank these rodents for many of our modern advancements. But rats in the house? Not so much. In fact, like mice, rats can carry numerous diseases and threaten your well-being. Here’s what to know and how to deal with them.
- Common species: Norway rat and roof rat
- Size: 12-18 inches long (including the tail), depending on the species
- Tail: 6-9 inches long and hairless
- Weight: Average weight is around 1 lb
- Colors: Brown or brownish red (Norway) and dark gray or black (roof)
- Noises: Clawing, gnawing, and fighting sounds
Rat Habits & Preferences
- Rats hoard their food, a habit that can lead to insect infestations. And rats eat up to 1/3 of their body weight every single day, if it’s there for the offering.
- They’re more wary of new objects than mice (which means you’ll have to work a little harder to bait them).
- Roof rats prefer to nest up high—as their name suggests—in places like attic rafters or trees, while Norway rats like to burrow and nest underground.
- They can squeeze through a hole about the size of a quarter.
- Rats can chew through a cinder block! Turns out their constantly growing teeth are also extremely hard.
- They’re incredible swimmers, and can tread water for as long as 3 days. Rats can even dive through a sewer trap to come up inside a toilet. Yikes!
- Their gnawing can ruin furniture, wood surfaces, and drywall.
- Each rat can produce up to 50 droppings and plenty of urine in a single day, both of which can spread disease.
- They have an awful odor, especially if the infestation is heavy.
- Their fur leaves greasy marks along walls and floors where they frequently travel.
How to Rat-Proof Your Home
When it comes to dealing with rodents, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The exception is rats and mice. Dealing with these two is very similar, so follow the tips for mice listed in the previous section if you want to control rats (and read more about the differences between mice and rats for the full lowdown). However, there is additional intel that will help in dealing with a rat infestation. Read on to find out.
Rats need more water than mice. Mice get most of their water from food. Rats, however, need about ½ to 1 ounce of water every day in addition to their daily intake of 1 ounce of food. For that reason, they tend to nest in places where water is easy to get to, including drains.
- Secure basement floor drains with heavy-duty grates.
- Repair leaking pipes.
- Block openings around water and sewer pipes.
- Repair foundation breaks below ground level.
Rats will burrow outdoors. Norway rats have no trouble digging an opening along your home’s foundation, or near a weedy patch of your yard, around landscape plants, under the dog house, and near garbage cans. You can recognize a rat burrow by the fan-shaped opening and oily rub marks, as well as smooth, hard-packed soil around the opening. Fill the opening with loose soil or a few leaves, then check it in the morning. If the opening is clear, rats are still using the burrow. To further prevent rodent entry, nesting, and foraging, apply Tomcat® Rodent Repellent Granules to the soil around the suspected area.
Rats are warier of new objects. Rats are explorers that like to get out and have a look around. They memorize everything about their environment, including obstacles. Rats have a greater fear of new objects than mice. Though this doesn’t mean they won’t approach an object, such as a bait station, it does mean that it can take more time for a rat than a mouse. So be patient when dealing with rats. Since rats won’t feed on spoiled bait and it can take a little while for them to try a bait station or trap, make sure to freshen the bait regularly.
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What Is a Mole?
A mole is not actually a bona fide rodent. So, what is a mole? A small, underground-loving mammal that lives mostly off a diet of insects and earthworms. And while not closely related to rodents (they belong to the taxonomic order Eulipotyphla), they sure can make a mountain out of a molehill if they love your yard. Here’s what to do if you have a problem.
- Common species: Eastern mole Size: 5-8 inches long, including the tail
- Weight: 4 ounces Colors: Gray fur on top and white underneath
- Face: A long and almost hairless snout, eyes hidden by fur, and no external ears
- Feet: Paddle-shaped feet with long claws for digging and swimming
- Noises: Squeals, squeaks, chirps, and wheezes
Mole Habits and Hiding Places
- Moles are fond of insects, grubs, and earthworms.
- They like to dig elaborate underground tunnels in moist soil in order to forage for earthworms.
- Moles prefer to burrow in lawns and meadows.
- Although nearly blind, moles can tunnel at a rate of 1 foot per minute in loose soil, or 150 feet of new tunnels every day.
- Moles can mutilate lawns by creating mounds and raised ridges.
- They can ruin your garden by digging near plant roots, even uprooting them.
- Their tunnels give mice and voles access to seeds and tubers.
How to Mole-Proof Your Yard
Mole damage is ugly and plentiful, wreaking havoc on both your yard and your sanity. Here’s how to take the aggravation out of contending with an unseen critter who’s moving swiftly below your yard day or night.
Find the active tunnels. Walk your yard looking for runways (small ridges in your lawn). Carefully poke a hole on top of the runway dirt with your index finger, being careful not to collapse the tunnel. Place a marker like a popsicle stick or spoon on the spot. Repeat this in several locations. Over the next day or two, check the areas again. If the hole has been sealed, that indicates an active tunnel. It’s often the longest, straightest tunnel that’s used most frequently.
Bait the active tunnels. Eliminate stubborn moles and prevent new ones from entering your yard by baiting active tunnels. Apply a bait like Tomcat® Mole & Gopher Bait* directly into a burrow or tunnel system. Or, drop bait that mimics moles’ natural food source, like Tomcat® Mole Killer, directly into the tunnel. Get even more detailed step-by-step directions in our article on how to use mole bait.
Tend to your lawn. Moles like soft, loose earth and feeding on grubs, so make sure to keep up with your lawn maintenance and use products designed to control grubs, ants, mole crickets, and other insects they like to eat. To further repel moles, apply Tomcat® Mole & Gopher Repellent Ready-To-Spray over mole-infested areas of your lawn or garden.
Photo credit: iStock/CreativeNature_nl
What Is a Vole?
A vole is often confused with a mole, yet commonly called a meadow mouse or field mouse. If that sounds like a lot of rodents rolled into one, you’re right. Voles do have similarities to others on this list, but they also have their own thing going on. Let’s find out what that is and how to keep them out of your yard.
- Common species: Woodland vole, prairie vole, pine vole, meadow vole Size: 5-7 inches long, including a short tail
- Colors: Brown or gray
- Weight: Less than 1 ounce
- Face: A blunt muzzle, small eyes, and partially hidden ears
- Noises: Squeaking (like mice), and males sing during mating season
Vole Habits and Hiding Places
- Voles are vegetarian, eating plants, grasses, seeds, bulbs, and bark.
- They don’t like to feed in the open.
- Unlike their nocturnal peers, voles stay active both day and night.
- Their lifespans are short, about 2-16 months, on average.
- Voles don’t hibernate but they do tunnel and burrow.
- Voles can cause swift (seemingly overnight) and extensive damage to plants and fruit trees.
- Voles gnaw on plant roots and can girdle trees and shrubs, killing your landscape.
- They create golf ball-size exit holes in yards and fields.
How to Keep Voles Out of Your Yard
When it comes to dealing with voles, most of what you can do involves rolling up your sleeves and putting in the work. Here’s a checklist of things to get done:
- Remove weeds.
- Clear ground cover and dense vegetation.
- Mow and dethatch your lawn regularly.
- Pull mulch away from tree trunks.
- Use fine-mesh wire fencing to protect plants and other areas from voles. Make sure it extends 6-10 inches beneath the ground and at least 12 inches above ground.
- Apply a repellent to the lawn and garden. Made only with natural ingredients, Tomcat® Mole & Gopher Repellent Ready-To-Spray penetrates the soil to send voles packing.
Photo credit: iStock/Encyclomedia
What Is a Groundhog?
Also known as woodchucks and whistle pigs, groundhogs are the most widely distributed large rodent across North America. And they even have their own weather-forecasting celebrity!
- Size: 20-30 inches long, including a short, furry tail
- Colors: Shades of brown
- Weight: Up to about 13 pounds
- Body: Chunky and compact with short, strong legs
- Feet: Long, curved claws on its forefeet
- Noises: Grunting, whistling, and fighting sounds
Groundhog Habits and Hiding Places
- Groundhogs do not “chuck wood” and are mostly herbivores that eat a variety of vegetables, flowers, grasses, clover, berries, cherries, and hickory bark, as well as larger insects like grasshoppers and June bugs.
- They hibernate from October to March, and have an average lifespan of 5 or 6 years.
- Groundhogs like to work during daytime hours.
- They prefer to feed in the early morning and again in the late afternoon.
- Groundhogs create elaborate burrows with offshoots designated for specific purposes, such as nesting, eating, and pooping.
- Groundhogs know exactly when to mate: In most places, that’s the first half of March. If they wait too long, their babies won’t be able to put on enough weight in time for winter, and if they mate too early, there’s no food for new offspring.
- Groundhogs can dig up lawns and decimate gardens.
How to Control Groundhogs
As with other rodents, groundhogs won’t stay where they’re not welcomed. Here’s how to tell a groundhog to take a hike.
Create obstacles. Put up a fence around vegetable gardens, making sure it’s at least 10-12 inches below ground and 4-5 inches above ground.
Get rid of food sources. Pick up any fallen fruits and nuts. Harvest your garden frequently. If you compost, make sure you cover it. Eliminate wood piles or move them away from your house.
Offend them. Groundhogs can be repelled by certain smells and tastes. Offenders include garlic, cayenne, lavender, Epsom salts, and castor oil. For an easy and effective way to protect flowers, ornamentals, fruits, and vegetables from groundhogs, apply Tomcat® Repellents Animal Repellent Granules (according to label directions).
What Is a Squirrel?
A squirrel is a slender rodent known for being nuts for nuts. In fact, their fondness for collecting acorns—and forgetting where they put them—helps grow trees. So why are squirrels bad? Well, sometimes their habits get a little out of control.
- Common species: Eastern gray squirrel, fox squirrel, and red squirrel
- Size: 9-24 inches long, depending on species, including a bushy tail
- Colors: Mottled brown to brownish-gray, silver-gray, and reddish-brown
- Face: Bulging eyes and prominent ears
- Noises: High-pitched bird-like chirping and chattering
Squirrel Habits and Hiding Places
- Squirrels feed on nuts, berries, succulents, mushrooms, and insects.
- It’s no surprise, but squirrels regularly hoard nuts to eat throughout the winter.
- Squirrels nest in trees and tree cavities.
- Squirrels are incredibly adept at climbing.
- They are infamously good at destroying bird feeders so they can eat the seed.
- Squirrels are chewers and can chew the bark off trees, as well as gnaw on siding or under the eaves of your home.
- They often dig in potted plants or mulch beds looking for food, or a place to bury food.
- Squirrels are known to nibble on garden veggies.
- They can nest in attics or between walls, chewing on wires or the insulation around wires.
- Squirrels travel along power lines and can cause transformers to short out.
How to Deal with Squirrels
Squirrels causing a problem outside are bad enough (read more about keeping squirrels out of your yard and garden), but having one get inside your house? Well, it’s a viral video waiting to happen. Here’s how to take control of squirrels and squirrel-proof your home.
Eliminate entry points. Look for knotholes, openings around chimney flashing, under siding, and around pipes. Seal any entry points with sheet metal or heavy-gauge hardware cloth.
Limit their travel. While you can’t completely stop their travels, you can reduce their ability to run and jump by trimming tree branches—especially those closest to your rooftop.
Baffle and thwart them. Add a DIY or store-bought shield on your bird feeder to protect it from squirrels, who climb up and eat the food. To thwart them from digging in flower beds and chewing up your landscape or garden, apply an essential-oil repellent, like Tomcat® Repellents Animal Repellent Granules, around your plants once a month (according to the label instructions).
Photo credit: Dreamstime/Aleksei Bezruk
What Is a Gopher?
Gophers aren’t just annoying rodents ruining golf courses. They love a backyard, too. Those long incisors and front claws are designed for digging, and they are equal opportunity excavators.
- Common species: Plains pocket gopher
- Size: 6-13 inches long
- Colors: Yellow, light brown, or black Teeth: Yellow incisors that are always showing
- Body: Fur-lined cheek pouches, large whiskers and long claws
- Noises: Gnawing, scratching, and squeaking
Gopher Habits and Hiding Places
- Gophers go for plant materials, including shrubs, grasses, trees, and dandelion root.
- They stay active year-round, even tunneling in the snow.
- One gopher can move as much as 400 tons of soil in a single year.
- Gophers are extremely territorial.
- There’s usually one gopher per tunnel unless it’s mating season or the female is caring for her young.
- Gophers have short, hairless tails that are incredibly sensitive and are used to guide them forwards and backwards through their extensive tunnel systems.
- They got their nickname, pocket gophers, because they carry food in their fur-lined cheek pouches.
- Gophers can uproot lawns and excavate gardens, leaving behind mounds of soil in their wake.
How to Get Gophers Out of Your Yard
When it comes to dealing with gophers, early detection is key. A fresh mound means you’ve got an active tunnel—and you’ll need to act fast. Here’s what to do.
- Bait the active gopher tunnel by carefully poking a hole in the tunnel, being careful not to collapse it. Carefully insert the bait and re-cover the opening. Tomcat® Mole & Gopher Bait is a ready-to-use pelleted bait designed to control pocket gophers.
- After a few days, if the tunnel is still active, re-bait it. Otherwise, there’s no need to continue baiting.
- Plant some gopher-repelling herbs, such as rosemary and lavender.
- Install wire-mesh fencing or gopher baskets around garden plants.
- Apply a repellent such as Tomcat® Mole & Gopher Repellent Ready-To-Spray around areas where gophers have been or are likely to be a problem.
Now that you know all about these 7 common rodents (alright, 6 rodents and one mole), use this info to the fullest: As tips to repel these wild animals, ways to get rid of them, or fun facts for impressing your friends. You’re all set in any situation!