Neotoma lepida, the desert woodrat, is more closely related to mice than to rats, despite its rat-like appearance.
It has a long tail, large ears, and large black eyes. Its coat is light gray with even lighter fur on its belly. It is generally
nocturnal and when seen, it is frequently carrying a small item in its mouth--it is called the pack rat because it collects
bright, shiny objects with which it decorates its nest. Items including coins, car keys, reptile scales, jewelry, aluminum
foil, and shells have been found in pack rat middens. Pack rat middens ("middens" is an archaeological term meaning, roughly,
"garbage pile") have been very valuable sources of information for anthropologists, historians, and ecologists because their
middens are often very well preserved. Some middens have been found that were radiocarbon dated older than 50,000 years.
That might be all well and good, you say, but the pack rat is a pest! It chews the wires in my car and pulls the stuffing
out of my patio furniture!
Yes, yes it does. Pack rats don't do these things to be malicious; imagine how warm that stuffing must make their nests in
the middle of winter, imagine all the great hiding spots and pretty, shiny things in a car engine. Looking at it from the
pack rat's point of view, it would be ridiculous not to take advantage of such wonderful finds.
So how do we stop pack rats from doing things we don't want them to do? For the most part, we can't. Pack rats are just
going to chew things and steal shiny objects--it's what they do. We can deter them, however. If you're worried about pack
rats building a nest in the engine of your car, be sure to pop your hood at night and leave a light on in your garage. The
light shining into the engine makes it a much less desirable place for the pack rat to hide and nest, and it will most likely
leave your engine alone and search for somewhere nice and dark. There are also several brands of ultrasonic rodent repellents
that will chase away mice, rats, and even some insects but won't disturb birds, reptiles, or house pets. There is controversy
surrounding the use of poison to kill pack rats, since several threatened species, including Bald eagles, have been known
to eat pack rats, and eating poisoned pack rats can cause them to become ill or die.
They're almost cute, until you remember how much it cost to get your engine fixed after it chewed through all those wires.