A Better Mouse Trap

Features - Rodent Control

When facing a challenging rodent control situation, evaluate and develop a control strategy with a variety of pest management tools. This will be the best way to determine a long-term solution for your customers.

December 13, 2016

One day, when I was about 11 years old, I was looking out our window into the backyard when I saw something running up to my dog’s house, and then run back to the fence where our neighbor’s firewood was stacked. A few minutes later I saw it again and realized that I was watching a rat going up to my dog’s food bowl, taking a piece of food and running back with it to the safety of the wood pile. To say I was excited would be an understatement; I had just gotten two No. 1 size long spring foothold traps, and now I had something that needed trapping!

After an “extensive inspection” I found the spots where the rat had been crossing under the fence, and that is where I set my two traps. After watching the rat run back and forth for the next hour without being caught I realized that it was running over the traps but not setting them off. (Hence, my first lesson on foothold traps needing proper pan tension for the target animal.) After some minor trap adjustments I soon captured not one, but two rats that measured 19 and 21½ inches long, respectively, from the tip of their nose to the end of their tail. Unfortunately, after several additional days of trapping I finally realized that there were only two rats living in the wood pile! (And that ended with my second lesson: A need to evaluate the population of the target animal(s) that are present.)

This event happened more than 45 years ago and even to this day, while I typically don’t use foothold traps for capturing rodents, I still enjoy using trapping devices to capture rats whenever a situation that calls for this type of control or prevention technique arises.

Fast forward another 11 years and I was out of college and now working full time in the pest control industry. One afternoon a pest control department supervisor and I were lathering up our hands and forearms in detergent so that we could pull out glue from 1-gallon buckets to spread on cardboard to make glueboards for a big mouse “clean- out” at a seed warehouse. (For you younger folks, rodent glue didn’t always come “ready-to-use,” pre-spread on trays and cardboard with easy to peel-off covers!)

In the business of rodent trapping there have been many improvements in traps and trapping devices. Remember the old saying “build a better mouse trap, and the world will beat a path to your door”? However, the biology and nature of these pests that our forefathers were battling has changed little, and folks are still attempting to build a “better mouse trap.”

Our society, with all our modern-day human innovations, has greatly contributed to the success, and at times, “population explosions” of both mice and rats. High-rise complex buildings, expansive “sanitary sewer systems,” massive food manufacturing storage and warehousing facilities, homes of all shapes, sizes and conditions, extensive plantscapes and landscaping, poor waste disposal practices, pets and bird feeders, and many other factors, all have contributed to expansive rodent populations. As cited from multiple reference books, commensal rodents literally have adapted to live and thrive with mankind.

A McNeely Pest Control technician baits snap traps with peanut butter.

In order to consistently be successful in implementing an integrated rodent control and/or prevention program, there are a multitude of factors to consider. One of these components is when, where, how and why to utilize rodent trapping equipment.

Understanding why and how any animal behaves will give you an advantage whether you are hunting elk, bear or just rats and mice. It also is important to understand that deer mice and house mice are two different animals with many different traits. By the same token, Norway rats and roof rats differ greatly in their behavior, travel patterns and preferred nesting sites. Therefore, one of the first considerations when implementing a rodent control or preventive service program and trapping device selection is to evaluate the site and have a good knowledge of what potential rodent species might be present.

I have always thought of house mice as generally “curious investigators” with a limited home range. However, a mouse traveling into a building or warehouse may move about extensively for several days or more in search of suitable shelter and food resources. By the same token, we often look at rats as having the ability to travel extensively. At times the opposite may be true if ideal food and shelter conditions are present.

In our service areas deer mice are very common in attics of homes and are found living in wooded and heavily landscaped exterior areas. I often look at deer mice control as if I were dealing with “mini squirrels” due to their excellent ability and habits of climbing up and into structures. I have been known to refer to roof rats as “slick-tailed” squirrels because of their ability to navigate and utilize many other “overhead” landscaping and construction features.

In general, however, it is the nature of a mouse to “check things out.” It seems that if you just put out a snap trap then a mouse will often get caught during the investigation process in “checking out” what’s there. On the other hand, I typically see rats more like the “big game animal of the rodent world” and often like to refer to them as a “cautious avoiders.”

By keeping the biology and behavior of the rodent(s) in mind one can then begin both the selection of applicable trapping devices as well as the locations where you may most effectively utilize them. What follows are case studies that I have experienced over the years. I hope these examples help you and those at your company!


One Friday afternoon in November we received a call from a nearby university where we provided wildlife remediation services (when needed), but not general pest control service. It turned out that the university had received a delivery at its dining center that afternoon and one of the boxes of supplies had a mouse jump out of it in the cafeteria. The mouse had been seen multiple times running back and forth along the serving lines and the university’s pest control service provider at the time said they could not respond until Monday. My work partner Frank Fowler and I headed over to the university with several hundred mouse snap traps that evening after the cafeteria closed. We literally set more than 200 traps and several boxes of rodent glueboards. The next morning we had a single mouse in one of the traps that Frank had set (as he often likes to remind me), and the immediate problem was solved. Shortly thereafter our firm had the opportunity to submit a proposal for taking over all of the pest control service programming for the university.

LESSONS LEARNED. We are in the service business and if you don’t provide the needed service(s) there very likely is another service provider available that will. If you don’t have a trapping device set in the right place at the right time you won’t catch the critter. Don’t skimp on the number of devices needed to solve or prevent a problem.

A properly placed multi-catch rodent trapping device.


Several years ago I responded to a call for assistance from one of our service technicians who had a residential pest control customer who apparently had a rat that had gotten into, or had gotten up into, her car and was brought into her basement. The rat got into the engine compartment of the car and chewed through multiple wires and even her windshield washing lines. In order to fix the damage, multiple wiring harnesses needed replaced, resulting in almost $1,200 in repairs. If that weren’t bad enough, the rat was now on “the warpath” chewing into boxes of stored food in the basement and our technician hadn’t been able to catch it. Once on site I had this rat figured out “in short order” (or so I thought). I promptly began placing snap traps secured with Hercules putty on overhead water drain lines. I then narrowed down several pathways where I suspected the rat was running and blocked these out with snap traps. I also made placements with giant glueboards in areas where the rat would surely be running back and forth when on the ground level of the basement. All we had to do at that point was wait till the next day and go pick up the rat. After several nights of waiting, things just didn’t work out quite like I had planned. The rat was still there!

I found where the rat had been in the cat’s litter box fishing for “treats.” There I set and camouflaged snap traps in such a fashion that they were “literally undetectable” (so I thought!). I also found a cardboard box that the rat had chewed into and there I placed part of a leftover Wendy’s hamburger and fries and covertly set a trap inside the box to greet the rat upon its entry. I also took cornstarch and made track patches throughout the basement both at ground level and on overhead duct work and lines. After several more days I did get several sets of rat tracks but still no rat!

After a week of daily visits I broke out chick waterers (quart-sized containers with screw-on trays that can be filled and inverted to make liquids available for consumption), Liqua-tox and paraffinized block rodenticide. The chick waterers were placed in several locations in the basement and the rodent bait was wired individually in multiple overhead locations where I detected rodent movement patterns with the track patches. I also continued to maintain all of the trapping devices. Finally I had some feeding on one block and the homeowner called me several days later saying that the rat was lying dead on the floor of the basement.

LESSONS LEARNED. There is nothing like getting your butt kicked by a rat to level out your ego! Don’t give up. All of the techniques that were used could have been effective in different settings. Don’t rely on just one technique. In this case we had delayed utilizing rodenticide because the owner was concerned about a potential dead animal smell if the rat died in a wall. I probably should have made the shift to rodenticides sooner.

Apparently the rat had been able to store food from the boxes and did not have to move around much. We also had removed the cat and his water bowl from the basement and felt that the water stations would have been the rat’s downfall. This rat was extremely neophobic and avoided almost everything; hence, we wired the rodenticide in multiple locations overhead that were inaccessible to children and pets where it was eventually fed upon. Rodent trapping devices are among a group of multiple “tools” that we have available for rodent control and prevention. I also recently read that some automotive wiring is now being protected with vegetable-based oil products at the time of manufacture, and this may contribute to the attractiveness of the wiring of certain automobiles to rodents.


I had a service technician call me one day for help in dealing with a rat in a laundromat. It turned out that the owner of the laundromat had a candy stand where he would sell candy to customers while they were in there to wash their clothes. The owner said that “the rat was eating up all of the profits and it needed to go ASAP or we would be looking for a new job!”

A mouse caught in an “expanded pan” snap trap.

When I arrived on site I found enough traps and rodent bait present to catch an army of rats. This rat apparently was avoiding everything that had been placed out and was not interested in eating anything but candy bars. As I continued my inspection I entered into a furnace room that had a gap under the door sufficient to allow a rat to pass beneath. I also noticed multiple sets of rat tracks on the dusty floor when I shined my flashlight over the floor at an angle. At this point I felt the rat was nesting either in or behind one of the furnace units.

From there I picked unbaited rat snap traps and placed several boxes in a fashion to restrict the travel path of the rat to the doorway. I then swept the floor and covered each unbaited trap with the floor sweepings to better blend in with the surroundings. The next morning I had the rat in one of the unbaited traps.

LESSONS LEARNED. At times rats will travel long distances between a nesting site and food source. Rats can have specific feeding preferences and may not readily accept different food or baits if the preferred food is present. However, at times they will accept something totally different that they may find attractive, especially if it is more readily available than the current food source. I had also taken one of the candy bars and used small pieces of it on several snap traps but caught the rat on the camouflaged trap.


I was recently talking with my friend, Gene White, of Rentokil Steritech, concerning a hydroponic vegetable greenhouse that White was called to inspect due to an extensive mouse concern. Apparently the mice were feeding upon the vegetables and nesting in burrows beneath the plant-growing stands. The owners would not allow the use of rodenticides or any type of bait attractant in the greenhouses. And, of course, they wanted their mouse problem solved as quickly as possible. After some consideration White had several thousand snap traps brought in and placed small cotton balls on each trap. The traps were placed extensively throughout the greenhouse where mouse evidence was present. In a matter of several days the mouse population was devastated by the trapping efforts.

LESSONS LEARNED. Use more than enough equipment to do the job. I’ve heard several industry leaders say “it’s not about how many rodents you catch or roaches you kill, but rather, — most importantly — how many are left behind!” If you approach all of your pest-related calls with this statement in mind and your goal of getting after all of those that are “left behind,” your level of success will greatly improve. Mice will go for nesting materials as an attractant. In addition to the use of pieces of cotton balls, I have also heard rodent expert Bobby Corrigan suggest tying small pieces of dental floss on snap traps as an attractant that mice would attempt to use for nesting materials. Don’t overlook the fact that mice may move only very short distances if they have readily available food and nesting sites. Hence, you must have control devices present where the mice are in order to be able to control them.


The use of rodent trapping devices for the control and prevention of rodents can be very effective. When investigating the rodent control needs of any client, always keep in mind the what, why and how of the components that apply to the situation. When facing a challenging rodent control situation, evaluate and develop a combined control strategy that will be one of multiple factors that will contribute to a long-term solution with your customers. Keep looking for that “better mouse trap!”

Scott McNeely is a second-generation pest control operator who is president and CEO of McNeely Pest Control, Winston-Salem, N.C.