Fruit rats, also known as roof rats and citrus rats, attack and spoil crops and are a common problem in Florida. They especially cause great harm to the citrus crop by chewing a quarter-size hole in the fruit and then hollowing it out. Fruit rats are nocturnal animals and access fruit trees via nearby trees, buildings and fences. For this reason, fruit trees should always be planted away from other trees and structures.
Prune your fruit trees so that the limbs do not droop below 18 to 24 inches from the ground. In addition, prune the trees so that from the upper branches of the tree, the ground is visible underneath. This makes the fruit rats feel uneasy since they are more exposed to predators.
Remove all the dropped fruit from the ground every day.
Install a tree guard around your fruit trees, which will only work if your trees are isolated from other trees, buildings, fences and wires. Tree guards are made from either plastic or metal and have small holes for easy installment. You need tree guards that are 18 to 24 inches wide and at least two inches longer than the diameter of the trees. Where the guard overlaps, secure the two layers on both the top and bottom of the guard with wire.
Set up rat traps, which are similar to mouse traps. Since fruit rats run mostly along the trees, fences and wires, it’s best to avoid setting the traps on the ground where they may accidentally trap other animals. Rather, tie the traps to the lower branches of your tree in such a way that they are against the trunk and the trigger is on the bottom. Also, set traps along the horizontal beams of any fencing or tie them with rubber bands along the top of a chain link fence. Only leave the traps out at night because fruit rats are nocturnal and you want to avoid accidentally trapping other animals that are out during the day, like birds and squirrels.
Set up poison baits. It is illegal in Florida to place poison baits outdoors unless they are in a secure, tamper-resistant bait station where children, pets, wildlife and livestock cannot easily access them. Tamper-resistant bait stations are available only at pest control companies and there are a few models available. Follow the directions that came with your bait station carefully as each one is different. In addition, handle the rat poison according to the label. Bait stations can be placed along fencing or hung on the lower branches near the trunk of the tree. Because of Florida’s high humidity, use a rat poison that is in a pellet or block form.
Keep snakes that prey on fruit rats in the area. Do not kill or capture and move these snakes when you see them. Snakes in Florida that eat fruit rats are gray, yellow, corn and red rat snakes; king snakes; black racers and indigo snakes.