Cotton rats are a number of related rodent species named thus because they damage cotton crops. These pests are small and squat rodents about 5 to 9 inches in length, with their tails adding another 3 to 6.5 inches. Their ears are small and rounded, while their coats tend to be a coarse mixture of gray and black hairs with lighter underbellies.
Cotton rats prefer to make their nests in abundant grasses, either concealed under all that vegetation or in shallow burrows hidden under the same. They are quite adaptable and can nest under shrubs and other small plants when grasses are unavailable. In urban areas, cotton rats can nest in gardens, on lawns and even move into less-used buildings such as barns, garages and storage sheds.
Like most rodents in need of pest control, cotton rats are omnivores that sometimes eat insects and other small animals, but prefer to eat plant matter. Cotton rats are particularly fond of the stems, foliage and stems of green vegetation such as crop plants, and often nest near such locations. Rat control is important because they can easily ruin economic livelihoods if left unchecked.
A single adult female can produce about six offspring in each litter and up to nine litters in a single year. Since cotton rats mature in one month, their population can easily explode if not caught early on by pest control services and provided with sufficient access to food.
Cotton rats are dangerous because they can carry a number of diseases threatening to humans that can be spread through rat bites, contact or even airborne contact. One of the most common is Black Creek Canal virus, which can cause Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in humans. The most dangerous thing about this virus is that it can become airborne and infectious if the carcasses of infected cotton rats and their droppings are disturbed. Other possible diseases include both the plague and a strain of typhus.
Handling and Control Measures:
The best rat control method is prevention. For cotton rats, keeping grass and other vegetation mown low and sealing up holes and other entrances into buildings ensures that they will not nest nearby. Rat traps can be used to kill cotton rats already present, but their usage and disposal are best left to pest control services because of possible diseases. Do not touch the rats or even surfaces contaminated by their droppings and urine, and contact pest control services instead. But if this is impossible, be sure to use diluted bleach to disinfect the material, or leave it outside in the sun for a few hours before handling them. These measures should help sterilize the material if it has been contaminated with the Black Creek Canal virus or some other pathogen.