Rodent Identification (Rodentia)

What are rodents?


Rodents are small mammals characterized by having two incisors which must be kept short by gnawing as they grow continuously. In Washington, the most common rodents homeowners come up against are mice and rats. Rodents have a long history of spreading diseases, damaging property, playing host to parasites, and generally causing all manner of problems when they are allowed into human structures. Rodents can damage your home, destroy your personal items, and put your family at risk of disease and infection. Read on to find out more about rodents, the problems they cause, and why preventing them from getting into your home or business is essential.

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Types Of Rodents In Western Washington

Deer Mice

The deer mouse are small rodents measuring about 5 to 8 inches in length. They have brown fur on their backs with white feet and underbelly. The name “deer mouse” comes from this color patterns, making them resemble a white tailed deer. Deer mice move about on the forest floor beneath the concealing cover of the leaf litter, and they nest in well hidden burrows, rock crevices, brush piles, and tree holes. Their coloration gives them natural camouflage in these locations.

Deer mice often nest in sheltered outdoor areas such as old fence posts, hollow tree logs or piles of debris. During the winter months, deer mice may invade homes, garages, sheds or rarely used vehicles to seek shelter. Inside, attics and basements make the ideal deer mouse habitat. The deer mouse also builds its nest in storage boxes, stuffed furniture, drawers and wall voids.

House Mice

House mice are a small species of rodent that are among the most recognizable rodent species in the country. The house mouse grows to between 5 ½ and 7 inches in length with large, rounded ears and scaly tails. Their fur ranges in color from grayish-brown to almost black, with lighter colored undersides, usually tan or off-white. Their other distinguishing features are their small pointed noses and their continuously growing front incisors that they must constantly wear down by gnawing.

Mice are typically  attracted to properties that offer them easy access to food, water, and shelter. Bird feeders, unsecured garbage cans, woodpiles, gardens, and compost piles can all attract mice to your property. While mice can enter homes, garages, sheds, and other buildings any time of the year, they are especially problematic in the late fall when they are trying to secure a place to overwinter. Mice can enter buildings by squeezing their bodies through very small spaces; once inside, they are typically found hiding in places that are close to food sources including behind walls, in crawl spaces, behind large appliances, in attics, and in the back corners of cabinets.

White-Footed Mice

The white footed mouse grows to about six inches in length and is distinguishable by its dark brown upper body coloration with white, sock-like feet.

White-footed mice are omnivorous, and eat seeds and insects. They are timid and generally avoid humans, but they occasionally take up residence in ground-floor walls of homes and apartments, where they build nests and store food. Even though these mice are usually found outside, they may enter human structures during colder months in search of food and water. They typically enter campers, storage sheds, garages, and residential homes.

Field Mice

Field mice, also known as meadow voles, are stout rodents ranging between six and seven inches in length with coarse brown fur and light gray or white undersides. They have short, furred tails that reach twice as long as their hind feet.

Field mice are commonly seen near wooded areas with thick brush. While field mice don’t typically enter homes and workplaces, they can wander into buildings through cracks in foundations or loose doors and windows. Homeowners may also unknowingly carry them inside in bundles of firewood. More often, the pests harm the lawns and gardens of private residences, commercial farms, and other businesses. Their small size helps them hide in tall grass, squeeze through gaps in fences, and get into orchards.

Norway Rats

The adult Norway rat grows to between 7 and 9 ½ inches in length with a strong, stocky body built for swimming. Norway rats have a rounded blunt nose, protruding small black eyes, small ears, and a bi-colored tail (darker on top, lighter on the bottom). Their fur is brown and is speckled with black hairs; the fur on their underbelly is lighter in color-usually gray or white.

Because of their heavy bodies, they aren’t great climbers, so instead of climbing into the attic they typically invade basements and the first floors of homes.

Roof Rats

Roof rats are dark brown or black in color and reach about 6-8 inches in length. The body of the roof rat has a long, thin, delicate build and grows to between 6-8 inches in length. Their long scaly tail adds another 6-8 inches to their total body length. Roof rats have a pointed nose, large ears and large eyes.

Unlike their Norway rat cousins, roof rats are built for climbing, and are often found climbing trees in order to access buildings through the roof.

Black Rats

Black rats are small relative to most rats, about 5-7 inches long. Despite its name, the black rat  can actually come in several colors, though naturally is usually black on the back with a lighter underside. The black rat also has a scraggly coat, and is slightly smaller than the brown Norway rat. Black rats are generalist omnivores. They are serious pests to farmers as they eat a wide range of agricultural crops.

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