2013-01-16

Of mice and rats

Mountain Lair is as far from civilization as CA-17 will allow, and I am glad we don't have to live completely off the grid. Electricity is good, as is water and the holy Internet. Everything else, we have to either truck in, such as we do with propane, or do on-site, such as waste water treatment (A.K.A. septic tank), back-up power generator (still on the list to buy).

It's really not bad, just gets expensive at times. But it's quite civilized, and we even have proper garbage pick-up, with recycling and yard waste bins, like you'd have in a city!

It being mostly wilderness though, you could have guessed that humans are outnumbered by other mammals ten- if not hundredfold. Coyotes, deer, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, mountain lions. And rodents. Nature is constantly trying to take over and re-appropriate what humans cleared for themselves, and mice and rats are the vanguard of the constant siege.

Us being us of course, we deploy electronic surveillance and state-of-the-art traps baited with bacon and peanut butter. Bacon for the rats, PB for the mice. Okay, maybe the mousetraps have not really evolved that much in the past hundred years, but they are still the state of the mouse trapping art.

It all started with noises in the attic. Some large animal kept waking me up at around 1am with its heavy footfalls. We weren't sure whether that was a rat or maybe an opossum. The websites about rats in the attic all said that the rats would be "scurrying" -- and "scurrying" this was not. These were deliberate, slow, and not too-cautious footsteps.

We both have a soft spot for marsupials, so wanted to find out what that animal was before trying to deal with it. We would hate to kill an opossum. Opossums are neat. We'd probably want to prevent it from climbing in by closing the openings it uses, or have a professional catch and remove them. But killing? No!

So to be sure what it is we've got in the attic, we put up a little surveillance camera in there first. It works with ambient light and infrared, and then you can watch what it sees on a little embedded-linux box it came with. Neatness.

It did not take long until we have identified the perp. It was a giant rat. And by giant I mean about three quarters of a foot long, before the tail even starts. No wonder it was not scurrying. With heft like this, scurrying would be completely impractical and undignified. It's like imagining Bruce Willis pattering along. That's just wrong.

So J went to Home Depot and got a rat trap, baited it with bacon, and set it up in the attic. Every once in a while, we'd check the attic-cam to see if the trap was still there. It remained untouched for a couple nights, despite the rat's continued return visits. Finally it decided that the trap was safe enough, or maybe it was overcome with the aroma of bacon. Either way, it bit.

If someone tells you that the traps kill the rat in an instant, don't believe it. The rat thrashed about for maybe 30 seconds, woke both of us up, but finally everything was quiet. We weren't even sure it was dead or maybe managed to free itself, because in its final throes it moved off-camera. The next morning we confirmed the kill.

I am not big on killing animals, so this was pretty sad. On the other hand, can't have rats in the house. Sigh.

Then last night I realized that some fruit on a shelf in the kitchen was nibbled on. On closer look, there were also mouse droppings in the fruit bowl! Yuck!

All the fruit went in the trash, and four mousetraps were set, baited with peanut butter.

Guess what? The very same night, two of the traps had mice in them.

So we are preparing for the siege and buying an extra large box of mousetraps.