By Katie Torpe, Garden Guides Contributor
About Mice, Voles and Rats
The Big Three. These nocturnal rodents live in close proximity to humans and often feed on our gardens and garbage. They may come inside homes, especially during winter. If you take a box from the attic and open it and inside find open seeds and droppings, you've got one of the above rodents. If you see chewed up vegetables in your garden,especially those that should be underground, like potatoes and carrots,you've most likely got mice, voles or rats. Or...all three. There are many types of rats and mice and they are found all over the country. Rats are usually the largest of the three, with mice second and voles third; voles are about the size of moles and are often confused.
Mice and rats will eat seeds, bulbs, leaves and fruits of just about anything. Voles are more known for debarking mature trees and chewing off the ends of shoots on new trees and seedlings, effectively killing them.
Prevention and Control
Rodents stay near humans for two reasons: food and shelter. Once these are removed, they will look elsewhere. To prevent rodents from entering your house, seal up cracks and holes; steel wool works well when first shoved into cracks and then sealed over. Although even some rats may seem large, they can flatten out and get into tiny cracks. Keep screens on the windows and around vents. Inside, store foodstuffs in plastic containers. Clean grease from under your stove and refrigerator. There are numerous traps you can buy: traps in which the rodent is kept alive to be let loose far away; traps that will snap the rodent's neck; glue traps and traps that contain bait. If you have an infestation, place these around the walls of your home, as rodents do not like open spaces. There are also ultrasonic noise machines that you can place in the tunnels in your yard. Since these rodents are fond of seeds, they could be attracted to bird feeders. Place these far away from gardens and your home. Outdoors, using toxic bait traps or poison should be the final option: wild animals may eat the bait directly or eat the dead rodent and ingest the toxins. A new option for elimination comes in the form of electricity; some traps will allow the rodent in but not out. Once in, the rodent's movement triggers a mechanism, and a lethal jolt of electricity is administered.
In your garden, they can eat bulbs before they sprout; they can kill trees. Voles, like gophers, can dig extensive tunnels through lawns and gardens, uprooting plants and small trees along the way. In the home, these rodents can get into foodstuffs and leave droppings around the house. Deer mice and cotton rats are especially well known for carrying the deadly hantavirus, which can result in both pulmonary and renal failure. Deer mice also carry the ticks that cause Lyme disease.
Rats, mice and voles have many animal predators, including foxes, bobcats, snakes, coyotes, birds of prey,and house pets. This is a reason that toxic bait traps are a last resort outdoors and must be used with caution indoors.