When you think about it, it seems like it would be hard for mice and rats to survive the winter. They’re definitely not big or fat enough to survive the freezing temperatures on their own. They can’t hibernate the way their cousins the chipmunks can. They can't fatten up like squirrels; their stomachs are too small and their metabolisms are too fast. They don’t even have the option to change their habits in order to conserve resources and wait out the winter.
When temperatures get low and food gets scarce, rats must find a way keep the same lifestyle they enjoy in the Spring and Summer. We’d almost feel bad for them, except for the fact that they seem like they’re doing totally fine! Year after year, winter arrives, and we keep getting calls about rat infestation. Come Spring time, rats and their little pink babies are as plentiful as ever.
How do they do it? Here are the four primary ways our furry foes outmaneuver, outlast, and outthink winter.
Rats might not be able to fatten themselves up, but they can prepare themselves for winter in other ways. Starting in Autumn or even late summer, rats and mice start getting more aggressive in their pursuit of food. Instead of eating opportunistically, they start seeking out extra food. They might store any extra food they find somewhere like their cousins the squirrels do. Pizza rat was probably dragging his slice back to one of these caches when he was caught on camera!
Rats can and will eat virtually anything, including garbage, so they’ve always got options. Generally, rats will drag their spoils back to an area they can access easily and leave it there for later. They maintain their stockpiles throughout the winter, often incorporating them into their children’s nests. Particular favorite collectibles include garden or bird seed, pet food, paper, nuts, compost waste, and fabrics. House mice love to collect fallen bird seed in particular, so if you have a birdfeeder, it’s a good idea not to hang it right next to your home. We’ve solved many a mouse infestation simply by moving the bird feeder farther away from a structure. It might also be a good idea to take it down come Fall.
Stockpiling helps explain the food source problem, but mice need to stay warm, too. Luckily for them (not so much for us), rats and mice are excellent at digging. They’ll look for a structure like a rock, wall, or fence, and dig a burrow beneath or against it. That way, they have less work to do! Look for small holes against Air Conditioning boxes and electrical units near your home, along fences, or the siding. Mice especially like burrowing into areas that have access to natural gas or electrical lines going into your house.
Unlike prairie dogs, mice don’t build elaborate tunnel systems underground. Instead, their burrows are usually shallow and small, with one entrance and exit. Rats don’t spend all their time in their burrows. They prefer to venture out to seek food or preferable shelter. They can burrow into open ground or through snow, but they won’t unless they absolutely have to. Remember: rats and mice always prefer to use your house for shelter rather than burrowing. If they have a way into your house they’ll use it every time. Look for ways rats could burrow into your house, such as by eating through insulation or by running along utility lines.
So far we’ve learned that mice love stockpiling food and digging themselves little hideouts. Nesting combines these two loves. Rat nests are basically like bird nests, but dirtier, more disorganized, and on the ground. Rats lack the artistry to weave those cool little circular twig beds the way some birds can. Instead, they just kind of drag whatever they can find to a secluded place and bunch it all together. If you can picture, essentially, a trash tumbleweed, you’re on the right track.
The location of the nest is a lot more important for rats than the material. Like pretty much everything else, rats want to be warm and safe. They seek out warm, dark places where they won’t be bothered by humans or other natural predators. Moist areas where they can get the little water they need are particularly ideal. The more checkmarks a prospective nesting spot can hit, the more appealing it will be to rats. The secret to keeping rats from nesting is to deprive them of stuff they like. You probably can't control heat or light, but keeping areas like your basement dry and organized will help prevent nesting.
This probably isn't a surprise, but the best way rats survive the winter by being really clever at getting what they need. You’d be amazed at the number of ways we’ve seen house mice sneak their way into a house. Burrowing under floorboards, chewing through electrical cables, climbing up drain spouts, even squeezing under doors--we’ve seen the furry little pests do it all. It’s only natural; for rats to get through trying times successfully, they’ve evolved to get really good at it.
What does this mean for you? It means you’ll have to expect the unexpected. Did you know mice love to sneak into vehicles to stay warm during the winter? That they can squeeze through holes the size of a dime? That they can leap up to four feet vertically? The best way to ensure you keep mice and rats out of your home is to sweat the small stuff--literally. Look for any possible entries, no matter how small, and practice good organizational and cleaning habits.
Mice can do almost anything to get out of the cold, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stop them. Keep a close eye on likely areas like the basement, kitchen, and attic. Make your home as inaccessible and unappealing as possible, and even the most ambitious rat won’t trouble you this winter. Don’t feel too bad about keeping the little pests out; they’ve survived the Minnesota winter this long, and something tells us they’ll keep on keeping on for years to come.
If you end up with a rat infestation in your home this winter--don’t panic! Sometimes rats seem to get in no matter how hard you try to keep them out. That’s what we’re here for. Plunkett’s gets them out and keep them out, guaranteed, so let us know if you need help today. Stay warm!