New York State IPM Program

Trap Failure or Human Failure?

When preparing for any job, my dad will remind me to choose the right tool for the task. In a way, this is an extension of another one of his gems: work smarter, not harder. Selecting the right tool can increase your efficiency and help you to get the job done correctly. Time and again I have reaped the benefits of this wisdom.

On a recent inspection of a food service establishment, management informed me that they had seen a small rat in the service hallway. Traps had been placed by the pest professional, but as of yet, the stealthy rat had not been caught. My interest was piqued.

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Tripped trap with piece of rodent tail

In the hallway I found that several rat snap traps had been baited and placed along the wall where the rat had been observed. One trap had been tripped, and actually had a small piece of the rodent’s tail attached, which seemed rather odd. How would a rat trigger the trap and get only its tail caught? That is when the real detective work started.

 

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Teeth marks in bait on snap trap: pairs of teeth 1-2 mm wide suggest feeding by mice.

No droppings were present along this runway to help with identification, but the now short-tailed rodent had fed on the bait, leaving behind impressions of its teeth. I pulled out my ruler and found that the pair of teeth were less than 2mm wide, which is suggestive of mice. Indeed, mice tend to leave impressions that are 1 to 2mm wide, while a pair of teeth for rats tends to be 3.5 to 4mm wide. Now the pieces of this mystery were adding up. A small rat was not the culprit, but rather a mouse. The traps had not been effective (except for taking off a piece of tail) because mice are unlikely to exert enough force on the trigger to engage a rat trap. So, what is the right tool for this task? You guessed it, a mouse trap!

Did you know…

The term rodent (the group that includes mice, rats and their relatives) is a derivative of the Latin word rodere, which means “to gnaw.” Rodents gnaw on objects to obtain resources, in the process wearing down their teeth. In fact, rat teeth grow approximately 5 inches per year, and are kept short by their gnawing behavior or by grinding their teeth.

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For more information, watch our YouTube video: Signs of a Rodent Infestation

Author: Matt Frye

An IPM Extension Educator stationed in the Hudson Valley, Matt offers advice, training sessions, workshops and conducts research related to pest management in and around buildings.

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