In California, there are several species of woodrats that make their homes in brush, under and in trees. Unlike most rodents, woodrats are clean; licking their fur much like a cat, keeping their homes organized and defecating outside their home.
Dusky-footed woodrats are grayer in color with darker feet.

Dusky-footed woodrats are grayer in color with darker feet.

Another difference between woodrats and other types of rats is in their eating habits. Woodrats eat fungi, plants, seeds, fruits, and bark. They make homes of sticks they’ve gnawed from fallen tree limbs. Rats eat anything, including dog poop! And, they often try to make your attic their home.


Woodrats breed from December to September. They are active year-round. Litters average 2-3 pups, 3-5 times a year. The mother woodrat builds the nest which is sometimes handed down to a daughter. She takes care of her young for a year before they go off on their own. Males, for a period of time, after breeding, will make a small nest, often in a tree, near the mother’s larger home. In the wild, woodrats can live 2-4 years. They can be quite large; with their tale, up to 16 inches in length.

Woodrats as Pests

So what could cause a woodrat to become a pest? Since their stick homes are built where there’s lots of brush and trees, most likely you won’t come across a nest unless out hiking. If, however, you have a large property with native chaparral or trees, a female woodrat may be tempted to set up home.
Big-eared woodrat, San Elijo Lagoon, Carlsbad, CA

Big-eared woodrat, San Elijo Lagoon, Carlsbad, CA

Woodrat nests can be quite large, like this one at the base of a tree.

Woodrat nests can be quite large, like this one at the base of a tree.

Woodrat aka Packrat

An endearing quality about a woodrat is how she hoards things inside her home. The term “packrat” is derived from this behavior. Her home is made of sticks with multiple rooms. She has a special room for shiny objects, anything that has caught her interest while foraging at night. This is no concern for humans unless she has taken something from you like a piece of ribbon, or a small shiny tool left outdoors. She may “trade” by leaving you a bottle cap in place what she’s taken.


If you feel a woodrat’s nest on your property is an eyesore, or the woodrat is eating the bark off your trees and you want her to go away. You’ll need to be very careful when destroying her nest of sticks. Woodrats do try to keep mites and parasites out of their stick nest by lining rooms with bits of Bay Laurel but there is a bug that often lives in the woodrat’s nest. It’s commonly called a “Kissing bug” and it carries a virus that can be transferred to humans.

Kissing Bug – A Woodrat’s Nemesis

Kissing (Triatomine) bugs, sometimes carry the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which caused Chagas disease, the “silent killer.”
Kissing bugs are blood-suckers.

Kissing bugs are blood-suckers.

Here’s how the parasite gets transmitted to humans: Kissing bugs are referred to as “kissing” because they bite at night, while you’re sleeping, on the lips or near the eyes. Once the Kissing bug has sucked blood, it desecrates near where it bit. Since the parasite is in the bug’s feces, and you unknowingly scratch the area, the feces can be rubbed into your mouth or eye! Contracting Chagas disease in the U.S. is low; according to CDC, however it is here and Kissing bugs are a carrier. Chagas disease can lead to heart failure or digestive disorders that both can result in death. Kissing bugs bite animals as well, including family pets. For more information on Kissing bugs and Chagas disease, visit CDC at:

Center for Disease Control

This is why you don’t want to mess with a woodrat’s nest, just in case Kissing bugs are hanging out in it. Even if the bugs are not current carriers of the parasite, who wants a bug to bite them on the lips in the middle of the night?

Predators of the Woodrat

Owls, hawks, bobcats, and coyotes are all predators of the woodrat. The woodrat is careful to step on fallen or broken branches instead of noisy leaf-litter which can signal an owl of her presence.

Woodrat Prevention

Keeping your property free from debris, cutting back brush, removing leaf-litter and fallen limbs will help in deterring woodrats from setting up home.
Bushy-tailed Woodrat

Bushy-tailed Woodrat

Kissing Bug Prevention

To minimize the chance of Kissing bugs and other insects from coming into your house: • The first step is to seal any cracks and gaps around widows, walls, roofs, and doors. • Cut foliage back from touching the home, about 12 inches. • Repair any screens with holes or tears. • Keep yard lights away from the house, bugs are attracted to light. • Let your pets sleep inside at night. • Regularly clean and vacuum corners. Your Hearts’ pest control professional can treat for Kissing bugs and any other pests in or around your home.

Call Hearts Pest Management at 1-800-986-1006 for more information.


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