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The giant rat(s) of Sumatra. February 27, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading.
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Fans of Sherlock Holmes may recall that the tale of the “Giant Rat of Sumatra” was one of those stories for which, according to his biographer, Dr. John Watson, “the world was not yet prepared.” (If you’ve ever heard the profane, bawdy version created and performed by The Firesign Theatre, you’ll know that he was right.)

However, our friend Ben is not, alas, referring to the adventures of the Great Detective, but to the giant rats that recently took up residence in our mudroom here in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. Surrounded by farm fields as we are, Silence Dogood and I expect that a few mice will venture indoors once winter arrives, and that our cats will make short work of the poor things. But we never expected rats.

Our mudroom is adjacent to the furnace room but is unheated, so it provides us with much-needed cold storage in the winter, staying at least as cold as our fridge but never freezing. We keep everything from canned, jarred and bottled foods and beverages to fruit and storage veggies like winter squash, onions and potatoes in there. It’s like having a pantry, root cellar, and extra fridge.

So you can imagine Silence’s distress when she noticed that something had gotten into the parrot treats, knocked over various items on shelves, and gnawed on some of the potatoes. “Ben! There are mice in here! We’ve got to set some traps!” (The mudroom is off-limits to our cats and dog; too many things to knock over and break.)

I dutifully baited two snap-traps, using only the finest sticky stuff, Brie and egg salad, and positioned them strategically. (Which is to say, within easy reach of mice but out of reach of nosy cats or a dog who might try to barge in there.) Like clockwork, the traps were sprung and the treats removed, but there was no sign of the culprit and the demolition of the mudroom continued.

“Ben, look! The thing ate through the cartons of almond milk and silken tofu, as well as the packages of quinoa and millet! Eeewww, you should see this mess! It’s even eaten into two of the winter squash!” Silence regarded me darkly. “I don’t think this is a mouse. We need a rat trap!”

If you think of rats as residing only in subways and on docks, let our friend Ben tell you that farmers’ corncribs are a rat’s paradise. It was because cats kept rats from ransacking the granaries of ancient Egypt that they were deified by the grateful pharoahs and priests. But rats in our house?!! Why would rats be in our house? (And needless to say, no well-fed housecat in its right mind would take on a rat.)

Needless to say, our friend Ben soon found myself in our local Tractor Supply looking for a suitable trap. Silence had given me strict instructions: no glue traps, which were cruel, and no poison, both because of our pets and because the rat could eat it, then go off and die in some inaccessible place like inside a wall, where it would stink to high heaven for months to come. A sudden and relatively painless death was in order.

I found a great, reusable mechanical trap, the Tomcat Reusable Rat Trap. Made of plastic, it had plenty of built-in safety features (which are necessary, since a trap strong enough to kill a rat can break every finger in your hand if you inadvertently trip it on yourself). You could bait it before you set it, and set it with your hand or foot. I put peanut butter in the bait cup, set it up as directed, and waited to see what happened.

As it happens, I didn’t really think the creature was a rat, despite Silence’s having taken to referring to it as the Giant Rat of Sumatra. Rats? Here? Nonsense! How would one get in? And the mudroom adjoins our bedroom, and though I tried to keep an ear open all night, I never heard a trap snap, and neither did Silence.

But in the morning, I was greeted with “Ben! The trap worked! Please come get this rat out of here!” Sure enough, the trap had worked like magic, breaking the rat’s neck when it went for the peanut butter. Its large, heavy body (a good 10 inches long) and long naked tail lay still on the mudroom floor outside the trap.

After disposing of the rat, I was ready to call it a day, but Silence insisted that I reset the trap and replace it where it had been. A day passed with no further sign—no dead rat, no disturbed shelves, no new attacks on food or even organic fertilizer (the rat’s final foray). “See? What are you worried about?” I asked.

Well, plenty, as it turned out. On the third morning, Silence informed me that a second rat was in the trap. Then, this morning, it caught a mouse. The trap is once again reset and in place. We’re hoping that this has taken care of our rat population and will continue to control the mouse population. Better safe than sorry! And if you find yourself in similar circumstances, we highly recommend the Tomcat Reusable Rat Trap.

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