2020 State of the Rodent Market Report: Playing (and Winning) the Game of Rat-and-Mouse

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December 2, 2020

Rodent work can be challenging, without a doubt, as every infestation has its own unique characteristics and quirks. While baits and traps remain mainstays in PMPs’ toolboxes — 94 percent report using baits and 93 percent traps — there’s a whole lot of creativity going on.

Inspection Tools

Technology, for example, enables remote monitoring and ongoing data collection to help PMPs identify hotspots and keep an eye on activity. “I use snap traps and strategic baiting, as well as exclusion to knock down infestations, but I also like using remote monitors to help me see where I need to focus attention,” says Sean Stevens of Connecticut Wildlife Control. “Technology helps me schedule, plan and keep watch on things without always having to make a service call.”

Elijah Miller of Reign Pest Management in Memphis, Tenn., says that technology and other specialized tools are critical to the inspection process. “In addition to pre-baiting, I use a thermal imaging machine to capture activity in attics, binoculars to zone in on rub marks, and a rechargeable black-light flashlight to detect rodent urine and hair,” he says, adding that he honed his approach to rodent inspections while working with Bobby Corrigan on a particularly challenging account several years ago. “The return on my equipment investment has been great,” he said.

Rod Woltmann of Mom & Pop Pest Control Services in Romeoville, Ill., agrees on the importance of a thorough inspection. “You should never rush an inspection. I differentiate my company by taking the time to investigate the right way,” he says. “In one challenging account — a ground-floor apartment with rats in the walls — I did everything possible, including inserting a camera into the walls, to piece together where they were coming from. Ultimately, I determined they were getting in through sewer breaks under the floor. It was a big job, breaking up the floor and making those repairs, but the building owner saw the value in getting to the root cause and eliminating the problem.”

In fact, inspection expertise is so important that John Kelly of Kelly Pest Control says he won’t hire a technician for rodent control work unless that person has the ability to recognize conducive conditions — overhanging trees, open doors, pipe runs, etc. — and spot any holes that are dime-size or larger.

An Account-by-Account Strategy

Kelly adds that the approach a pest control technician takes to any rodent infestation should be adapted to the type of account and its surrounding circumstances. In the East Bay of California, technicians servicing restaurants are required to pay a lot of attention to garbage clean-up, open doors and bait station servicing, while refineries demand staff with structural knowledge and repair capabilities. “The ground shifts constantly under these older buildings,” he explains. “They’re built on pads where asphalt degrades from weather and movement; it doesn’t hold for long. We need to stay on top of repairs to keep mice and rats out.”

In the Arizona desert, Pestmaster Services’ Steve Race faces much different challenges. “We service a lot of warehouse-type properties that by virtue of being out in the middle of nowhere experience steady rodent pressure,” he says. “The hotter and drier it gets — and we’re having a particularly dry year — the more pack rats, roof rats and deer mice move inside in search of fluids and food. We use a lot of natural repellents, glueboards and some snap traps, and we’ve started using birth control products in these accounts. We don’t underestimate the value of natural predators out here either; once we’ve deterred them from the account, snakes, coyotes, bobcats and other meat-eaters help us with control.”

Ingenuity to Outsmart the Opponent

Race’s comments bring us to a final, important point about rodent control: Never underestimate the power of ingenuity — yours and the rodents’. This may apply doubly when you’re dealing with rats, as their intelligence, wiles and adaptability are legendary.

Race says the rats in the desert are responding to increasingly arid conditions by nesting differently, tapping into everything from soda cans to succulents for water, and even hitching rides on bread trucks to get into prisons, which keeps him on his toes. Miller tells a story of matching wits one-on-one with an alpha rat in a bakery long after the rest of the population had been eliminated: “He would hit the trap, run away and, I imagine, laugh.” (Miller ultimately won through his analytical prowess, deft camera work and perseverance.)

Stevens sums it up with due respect for these clever adversaries: “With mice, you can do certain things and be pretty confident they’ll work. But you have to up your game with rats: They’re little ninjas — stealthy and smart.”