Desert dwellers - whether they have two legs or four, are feathered or scaly, live in dens or condos - all manage to co-exist most of the time.

But occasionally the smallest of critters can cause the biggest of headaches.

Say hello to the pack rat.

Find wiring chewed through in the car? It might be a pack rat.

Hear the pitter-patter of little feet in an attic or crawl space? It might be a pack rat.

Notice something gnawing away the garden flora? It might be a pack rat.

The solution for some who view the pack rat (aka woodrat) as a nuisance, is to put out poison.

Before taking such a drastic step, though, homeowners need to consider the ramifications further up the food chain.

Marcia Ring, spokeswoman for Tohono Chul Park, wants people to first consider what dines on the pack rat. They are prey for hawks and owls, as well as mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats and many other animals. The pack rat is a major food source.

"The No. 1 thing to consider when eradicating pack rats in your home is that they are on the bottom of the food chain," she said.

In other words, poisoning a pack rat will poison whatever eats it.

To protect those creatures living higher on the food chain, as well as one's property from the damaging effects of pack rats, The Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management (, created by wildlife biologists from several major universities, has suggestions for a nonlethal, integrated approach.

• Exclusion - Seal and cover all cracks and openings around a home. Holes should be no larger than a half inch in diameter. Homeowners should seal openings around water pipes, electric wires, sewer pipes, drain spouts and vents. Check for gaps in attic vents, broken roof shingles or other openings next to the eaves. Make sure doors, windows and screens fit tightly.

If gnawing is a problem, edges can be covered with sheet metal. Coarse steel wool, wire screen and lightweight sheet metal are excellent materials for plugging gaps and holes.

To make sure the pack rat is not trapped in the home once it is sealed, install a temporary gravity door made of sheet metal or rigid mesh wire, hinged at the top, over entrance holes. The pack rats can push it open to exit but cannot re-enter.

• Repellents - Objectionable odors from substances like mothballs may make an enclosed area less desirable for pack rats. Likewise, noxious tastes may make an item less palatable.

• Trapping - Pack rats are attracted to new things, so luring them into a humane trap with a tasty morsel wouldn't be difficult. However, research is mixed on whether a pack rat can survive when it is moved out of it's own territory.

• Destruction - Once the pack rats in an area are controlled, be diligent about destroying their nests, forcing them to set up their homes elsewhere.

Ring has an additional suggestion.

"Do not kill snakes on your property. Snakes roam a large territory looking for pack rats and will move quickly through your yard if you have none. They may stay longer if you do and help you solve your problem naturally," she said.

Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at or at 573-4191.