about this blog



I started this blog in 2008. It started mainly as a way of tracking the evolution of my dry garden, and that led to an interest in photography and in the creatures that live in the garden. It's still about the garden and wildlife, but now my passion is thinking about how we humans can learn to co-exist with wild animals and plants, especially in urban areas.

Monday, 6 May 2013

living with uninvited non-humans

D works for a pesticide company and tells interesting stories about pesticide use and the relationship between humans and wildlife. I met D when the sounds and smells of rats in the roof became too much to bear. 

D explained that the poison used to kill rats is the drug Warfarin. Warfarin is a drug used in medicine to thin patients' blood to help avoid stroke. Bleeding internally, the rats die a slow and agonizing death. But this is thought preferable to using a fast acting poison because the rats go elsewhere to die and rot. There's not much sympathy for wild rats among humans. 


D doesn't mind too much about killing rats, but sometimes he doesn't feel good about his work.  A woman recently called in a panic because she saw a Gecko in the garden. In this case D was happy he couldn't kill it because it's a species protected by law. But he has to do his job when he gets requested to kill spiders - even if he is asked to spray the garden near the house.

Marbled Gecko Christinus marmoratus found in my garden

He often gets asked to kill Whitetail spiders. These species, and Daddy Long Legs, are impervious to the residual effect of the chemicals. Spraying only kills those there at the time. Others will come in later and be unharmed. So spraying is not really a solution, but people are so scared of Whitetails they want to spray anyway. The toxic chemicals work efficiently with Black House Spiders and Wolf Spiders, species that eat Whitetails. Result: an increase in the Whitetail population, and more money for the pesticide companies.

These common spiders often wander into houses and are venomous - except for Daddy Long Legs, that are harmless to humans. So I can understand the fear, to an extent. Whitetail  bites have been said to cause the skin to break down, like gangrene, but this has not been proven.

Daddy Long Legs that lives in my house
Sometimes you don't see the actual creatures living in the garden. You just know they've been there because of poo droppings, or you might find a dead body. In this case, I found a well preserved skeleton, with bleached bones and prominent orange teeth. 

I identified the bones as belonging to a rodent, probably one of the unfortunate rats that died of internal haemorrhage. I didn't know that rats had orange teeth. It is the result of a yellow-orange iron-based pigment in the enamel layer of their incisors. These incisors continue to grow throughout the animal's life. Their size and shape is maintained by gnawing and grinding the teeth together.  Rats mainly eat seeds, grains and tubers, and live in the garden or the roof. Unlike mice, you don't find them in your kitchen. Rats and mice are closely related, the main difference being size. Rats are bigger.

Some people have pet rats. These are considered good rats, unlike the wild ones. If the pets get dental problems, people take them to see a vet. Rabbit and rodent dentistry is an emerging field of study and practice, but it is still at an early stage of development.



















Rats can carry pathogens that cause scary infectious diseases. Like other invasive species, they are never going to be eradicated. Maybe we should consider them as a source of food. Rats are eaten regularly in some parts of the world, and provide a source of protein when there is a shortage of food. A friend of mine grew up in a refugee camp and tells me me they are delicious.

34 comments:

  1. Good post. I have little sympathy for rats. Friends of ours live in the San Francisco bay area where the rat population is completely out of control. Spiders are something else. I can understand people getting worked up over venemous spiders - we have only one in this part of the world and you would have to really work at it to get bitten. Even so, it is too bad that fear drives people to solutions that are actually self-defeating.

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  2. Hi Jason, I always think fear is a destructive emotion and clouds our minds. Spiders and snakes and rats may have their dangers but they're not aggressive unless directly threatened. I laughed at your description of your only venomous spider, so different to us here.

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  3. A few years ago, I worked in a pottery studio. One night when the owner was working late, she saw a rat. So she got some rat poison and tossed it around the studio (it was little green blocks). A few weeks later the smell of decaying rats made it impossible to work there. Doors were left open, scented candles were everywhere - it was bad. When I asked her why she didn't use traps she said she thought that would be too messy.

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    1. Hi Joy, thanks for an interesting and darkly funny story.

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  4. Sort of it's sad that so many animals are killed because of us, humans. There are good reasons why, but sometimes animals are killed in vane, because we don't like them, we're afraid of them and so on.

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    1. We humans are the top predator but many people seem to like to think they're separate from nature.

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  5. Just can't like rats and mice in the garden are fine but not in my house...spiders are best left outside as well since many even little ones will usually find a way to bite me...love the gecko.

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    1. hi donna, the gecko is so sweet, I was thrilled to spot it. I looked up lots of websites to try to identify it but no luck.

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  6. We keep getting told that rats are much closer than we think, even if we think we haven't any on our property. I don't think anyone would happily live with rats in the house, you have to draw the line somewhere. We had a spell when they were coming to the bird feeder, when it was non stop rain, as soon as the rain stopped, so did the rats, thank goodness!

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  7. Hi Pauline, Some people say the trouble with seed bird feeders is that they attracts rats. I'm so pleased for you the rain stopped!

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  8. We seem to have more field mice in this part of the world than rats. And I've been told that cats help to keep both rats and mice away--just the scent of cats can be a deterrent. We've only had one mouse in our house over the years, and one of the cats took care of it ... although, of course, he brought it to us as a present. I have no problem with all types of critters living outside. But like the others, I want the bugs and the rodents to stay out there.

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    1. Hi Beth, I don't like cats because they eat birds. I want the assorted critters out there as opposed to in here too, but when it's cold and / or raining, I can understand them trying out human housing.

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  9. Do the rats have natural predators? Like rat snakes? Funny the most feared and hated snake is also the one who eats the feared and hated rat. Here on the river, we call people who live and breathe the river "river rats." We even sell River Rat Cheese. It's quite good.

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    1. dear tvf, I haven't been very specific in this post, because the rats I'm talking about are brown or black rats, introduced species. Owls and snakes eat mice, I'm not sure if they eat those rats, that are bigger and fiercer. I would love to get some owls into the garden, less keen on the idea of snakes because they are all poisonous here.

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  10. interesting post Catmint we have a resident rat in the garden he lives in one of the palms here ..... I would rather he goes elsewhere but am not sure if he is a pest or a native. So he can take his chances for now with the dog! if he hangs around maybe i'll get rid of him. I'm a little concerned about snakes too so wouldn't mind if he moved on!

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    1. Hi Serena, if it's only one rat and living in a palm tree, it sounds to me (as an in-expert!) like a native rat?????

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  11. Very interesting post Catmint! The little skull is oddly beautiful. I count myself lucky that I have never been in a position to have to eat something like a rat. If you are hungry enough though, I am sure they might be delicious.
    Being in an old house with a stone foundation, we have problems with mice. I have had to resort to storing food in plastic boxes. Being pacifists, we live trap them. One time however, we did get a rat in the basement. I knew it was not a mouse that had eaten a good half an apple in the kitchen. The poor rat died in a lethal trap.
    I am afraid of spiders mostly because I have a gift for being bitten by them. The spiders here are small, but their bites can well up and itch or sting.

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    1. hi jennifer, thanks for the comment. i think the little skull is beautiful too.

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  12. I can't kill anything and am really happy that other animals do it for me. ie cats. No rats in our area, but I doubt with all the city cats that any would live long. Just recently another apartment dweller moved out and left their cat behind. One more predator on the prowl. My garden has garter snakes and they take care of a lot of unwanted pests too. I liked your post, lots of good info.

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    1. hi donna, If the ecosystem is working properly I suppose ideally predators keep the numbers of unwanted animals down. Cats have a reputation for eating astonishing numbers of native birds and small animals. I suspect these are easier game than large brown or black rats. So pleased you liked the post.

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    2. Right now I am contending with three city cats in my backyard. I keep chasing them and they must think it a game. I need to get dogs. When I had two large dogs, no cats would enter the yard, but the dogs would lie at the base of the feeder and birds would happily eat. I get no birds when the cays lounge around the garden. Plus my two indoor cats go bonkers.

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    3. Donna - I am envisaging this scene you describe as a bit like an old Tom and Jerry cartoon!

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  13. I do kill the black widow and the brown recluse spiders here, when I see them. But I don't spray for them, I just stomp them. I also stomp the scorpions. I guess there really is a lot of harmful things out there! However, we don't have mice or rats here, thankfully, due to our cats. I know that's probably not a pleasant way to go, but more natural it seems than spraying. It makes me a bit sad that the rats have to suffer so much after being sprayed. I also wonder a bit about D's health!

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    1. We don't have scorpions. they look very scary. I agree with you Holley - stomping or eating seems preferable to chemicals. But i guess not as effective if there are large numbers...

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  14. I have seen a rat or two over the years, in our backyard, we just left them and they have moved on somewhere. If you have to use it, then stay well away from it and keep pets away from it. I found a redback in my kitchen a few months ago, it got sprayed. Most other spiders get squished if they are in my way, I don't like them. We have lizards in our house, which sometimes I rescue and put back outside along with the stray moths, but I don't mind living with lizards,little ones. I have no idea how they get in, but there's always one around.

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    1. dear karen, thanks for the comment. I guess we all have uninvited visitors. What varies is which ones we tolerate, which ones we kill, and how we kill them. I really like spiders now, although when I was younger I was very frightened of them.

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  15. I really enjoyed this post. I cringe when I think of pesticides! I believe there is a purpose for every creature, and the world is a better place when all are in balance. I do recognize some may cause illness or property destruction and must be controlled, but I was saddened when a friend said she did not like gardens because of the insects. It is a sentiment shared by too many.

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    1. hi Deb, I'm so pleased you enjoyed the post. It's an interesting balance, I think, between rejecting all nature, and accepting the need to get rid of some wildlife that are called pests.

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  16. I draw my line at mosquitoes - and frankly we've found them easier to catch in our spidercatcher and release - than flailing around trying to splat them. We have a catch and release mouse trap - for uninvited guests playing football in the roof. Spiders and snakes live in peace in our garden.

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  17. hi diana, uninvited wildlife are lucky if they turn up in your garden. The thing about mosquitos depends on whether it's malaria, Dengue Fever or Ross River virus country.

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  18. Yikees on the topic today but oh so interesting and let's face it, we have to all deal with pests at some point. I was most interested in the whitetail spider. I watched a show called 'Infested!' and I believe it profiled these whitetailed spiders as the pest control sprayed to kill all spiders but it did not harm the pest spiders and in fact killed all of the whitetail spiders enemies so then the whitetails took over (I think it was these unless there is another spider like it that can survive these things). It was really creepy. That is such an interesting show but I don't watch it often. Anyhow, hope is well down under. I guess it must be getting ready to be winter soon. So neat to think of the changes when we are coming to summer in the northern hemisphere!

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    1. hi Tina, the way you described that show is just how the pesticide man explained it to me. Spraying is disastrous, I watch a couple of shows a bit like that, find them fascinating.

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  19. I enjoy watching spiders unless they're on my person. Because of our mild winters, rats here can produce young year round so their population in urban areas is quite high! I battle with them in our walls & attic. I've stopped feeding the wild birds because the rats like birdseed too.

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    1. I also am in conflict - want to feed the birds but worry it will increase the rat population.

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