Rats, Food, and Bait Shyness
A rat needs to eat at least one-tenth of its body weight every day. That adds up to 20 pounds of foot each year for an animal that weighs less than one pound. It has the ability to get nourishment from many sources giving it a great survival advantage when food is scarce. Although rats will eat virtually anything that will not eat them, they prefer high-quality foods including fresh grains such as wheat and rice, fruits, meats, fish, and even bird eggs raiding chicken coops. However, rats will eat food waste left behind by people and even dead animal flesh. If food becomes very scarce in a rat colony, rats may prey on and eat the younger, weaker members of the colony. Rats require one-half to one fluid ounce of water daily when feeding on dry foods. In the wild, rats attack nesting birds. They have been attributed with wiping out eighteen different bird species and putting at least 40 on the endangered species list.
Rats use their keen sense of smell to locate food. Their sense of taste is extraordinarily fine considering the types and sources of food rats willingly consume. They can detect some contaminant in their food at levels as low as .5 parts per million. That’s the equivalent of being able to taste a teaspoonful of chocolate in 1,300 gallons of milk.
Rats are instinctively cautious. It will take them a night or two before they’ll sample a new bait placed in their environment or sniff around a trap. They may eat very small amounts at first, like a taste-tester, and any subsequent feedings depend on the food and its physiological effect. If a poison sickens but does not kill them, they will associate food with the illness and avoid it. This is why sub-lethal dosages of single-dose acute toxicants are a problem: They result in “bait shyness.” Bait shyness can persist for weeks or months and may be transferred to nontoxic foods of similar types. Today’s anticoagulant rodenticides are slow acting so there are no symptoms of poisoning even if sub-lethal does is consumed.
Rats are visually impaired so distinctive colored bait is not a problem. They can only see about four feet in front of them, but can detect movement about 50 feet away in nearly total darkness. Until recently rats were thought to be completely color-blind. Studies now indicate that rats have panoramic, blurry vision with faint greens, blues, and ultraviolets. Because of their poor vision, baits can be died distinctive colors without causing avoidance by the rats.
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