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Rats in Tennessee: Types, Facts & Tips for Homeowners

Black rat (Rattus rattus)

There are four types of rats found in Tennessee. Brown rats are the most common; however, there are a few other (rarer) types, too. Some of these rarely cause infestations or issues simply due to their rarity or behavior. However, others may find their way into buildings and homes regularly.

When controlling rats inside your home, professionals will typically identify the type of rat to treat the problem effectively.

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The 4 Types of Rats in Tennessee

Here are some of the most common rats found in Tennessee.

1. Brown Rat

Watchful brown rat (Rattus norvegicus)
Image By: lberlik, Shutterstock
Scientific Name: Rattus norvegicus
Occurrence: Very common
Range: Throughout Tennessee

The brown rat is the most common in Tennessee. Technically, this rat was not native to the United States. It likely originated from China or somewhere similar nearby. However, the rat has made its way across the world and now lives just about anywhere people do.

Typically, these rats stay close to people. They have evolved to live off of the waste of human civilization. Therefore, to thrive, they tend to stick in urban areas. They aren’t as common in rural areas, though they may still live anywhere people do.

They are best known for scavenging food in the trash. They even live in the subway systems of larger cities (though that is less of an issue in Tennessee).

There are several subspecies of brown rat—some of which are even popular in the pet trade. They can even be trained to detect chemicals, such as explosives and blood. Therefore, they are helpful, as well, despite their reputation as an infester.

2. Black Rat

Black rat (Rattus rattus) lurking on top of a wooden fence
Image By: Ernie Cooper, Shutterstock
Scientific Name: Rattus rattus
Occurrence: Common
Range: Throughout Tennessee

Black rats are black, as you’d probably imagine. They are native to India, but they have become extremely widespread—similar to the brown rat. This occurred fairly early in human history, so we don’t know precisely where these rats occurred first. Their range is a bit smaller than the brown rat’s, but they are present just about everywhere in the United States.

Mostly, these rats are considered pests in the agricultural sphere. They don’t live alongside people as closely as other species, but they do eat a variety of crops. Like all other rats, they can carry pathogens in their body. Therefore, they can infect humans if they live close enough to them.

In many areas, the black rat was once the most common. However, the brown rat is now considered the dominant species in many areas. Black rats are smaller and reproduce less, so they often aren’t as widespread.

3. Allegheny Woodrat

Neotoma_magister (Image By: Alan Cressler, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 2.0 Generic)
Scientific Name: Neotoma magister
Occurrence: Uncommon
Range: Eastern Tennessee

The Allegheny woodrat is the largest rat found in Tennessee. They can weigh up to a pound and are similar in size to a squirrel (which they are sometimes mistaken for). These rats do not have bushy tails, though.

Luckily, these rats do not usually travel into people’s homes. Instead, they are more likely to be around bird feeders or away from people altogether. They are a shy species and do not like being around humans, so they are rarely seen. They hide in the woods for the most part.

These rats feed many common predators, including raccoons, foxes, and bobcats. They are sometimes mistaken as brown rats, though they do look quite a bit different.

4. Eastern Woodrat

Scientific Name: Neotoma floridana
Occurrence: Uncommon
Range: Most of Tennessee (except the Eastern tip)

The Eastern woodrat is one of the largest rats in Tennessee. However, they usually live in the forests and swamps—not within people’s homes. They build nests alongside trees or rocks, using a variety of materials. They aren’t very picky about building materials and will even use things like tin cans and glass shards.

Like most rats, they will feed on various plant matter, including roots, nuts, leaves, and fruits.

These rats are extremely territorial. Therefore, even if they do infest a home, it usually won’t be a large infestation. They are only social during the breeding season. During other times, they will aggressively defend their territory from others.

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Facts About Rats in Tennessee

Even after reading these descriptions, it’s easy to think that rats are all the same. However, this isn’t necessarily true. There are two major types of rats you’ll find throughout Tennessee: brown rats and black rats. Black rats are, of course, black. They are also a bit smaller than brown rats by about 2 inches.

Black rats are often called roof rats because they are great at climbing. Therefore, they are often found living in the upper levels of buildings—or in the roof. They can even live in trees. On the other hand, brown rats tend to climb less, but they are great swimmers. They’re more likely to be found in basements or even burrows underneath homes.

brown rat eating sunflower seeds
Image By: Gerhard, Pixabay

Tips for Homeowners: How to Keep Rodents Out

If you live in Tennessee, you may have trouble with rodents. Luckily, there are quite a few steps you can take to keep rodents out of your home.

  • You should seal any cracks in your wall or foundation. Rats will absolutely use these pathways to get in.
  • You should also keep all doors closed when not in use. Just like a crack in your wall, rodents will use open doors to gain access to your home. Often, garage doors are easy entrances, as they are often left open when no one is outside using them.
  • Keep food put up where rats cannot access it. Rats will come into a home for many reasons; however, food is a major attractant. Clean up all garbage quickly and ensure it is stored properly. Don’t leave dirty dishes out, as rats can climb onto countertops and access food left on plates.
  • Black rats can use trees to climb onto the roof of your home. Often, there can be entry points up there that the owners don’t know about. After all, the average person doesn’t spend a lot of time analyzing their roof. Therefore, keep tree branches cleared away from the roof. Don’t let them become a bridge to higher levels of your home.

When Are Rats Active in Tennessee?

Rats are most active during the summer and fall months. During this time, the rat will gather food for the winter. However, rats do not hibernate. Instead, they simply lower their activity in the winter and spend much of their time in their burrow. However, they will come out during the winter on warmer days to gather food.

With that said, rats may also end up in your home more in the winter, as it is warmer thanks to modern heaters. Of course, rats using our homes as burrows will also spend more time inside during the winter months. Therefore, while rats are technically most active when it is warm, that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily more likely to see them in the warmer months.

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There are several rats that can be found in Tennessee. Some of these are more common than others, and not all are in the same area. Their behavior can differ a lot. Therefore, it is best to identify the species before handling an infestation (assuming you have an infestation). Some species hardly ever wander into homes due to their preferred nesting area and food. When in doubt, it is best to consult a professional.

Featured Image Credit: Carlos Aranguiz, Shutterstock


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