For humans, rats are often the stuff of nightmares, but it seems that the rodents may be as likely to experience bad dreams themselves as they are to star in ours. In a new study in Nature Neuroscience, researchers placed rats in a maze and allowed them to explore. At a certain point in the maze the scientists blasted the animals in the face with a bit of compressed air from a keyboard cleaner—a harmless but uncomfortable experience for the rats. Later, as the researchers monitored the animals sleeping, they could see patterns of connectivity in the animals’ hippocampi corresponding to their mental map of the maze. For the first time, however, the scientists saw activity in another region of the brain involved in emotion—the amygdala—whenever the rats’ brains recalled the location of the scary air puff, New Scientist reports. Whether rats actually experience this phenomenon as fear in the context of a dream is impossible to know without asking them, however.
Overlooking tiny cracks
Even tiny cracks and crevices in the foundation, doorways and walls where pipes enter the home could be inviting ants, roaches, spiders, rodents and other pests inside.
A rat can squeeze through an opening as small as a quarter and a mouse can fit through a hole the size of a dime. Cockroaches, ants and spiders can enter through tiny crevices, too.
Pests are attracted to shelter, food and water. Homeowners should promptly clean up all water and food spills, seal any cracks and crevices around doors, windows and pipes and install weather stripping around and under all doors, including garage doors.
Obtaining second-hand furniture
Buying a home is an expensive investment and it may be tempting to save money with furniture from a thrift shop or garage sale, but bed bugs, spiders and even scorpions have been known to dwell in second-hand upholstered furniture.
Once inside, they can spread from room to room. That's why it's important to inspect and quarantine -- for several months if possible -- all second-hand furniture before bringing it inside your home.
A home's attic can be a gateway inside for many pests, such as rodents and cockroaches, that nest in insulation. It's important to inspect insulation for pest activity and damage: insulation that is wet, matted down, chewed or covered with droppings.
New insulation technology incorporates materials specifically designed to help deter household pests.
Ignoring flooring and siding damage
Termites are called "silent destroyers" because they may be secretly hiding and thriving in a home or yard without immediate signs of damage. They cause more than $5 billion in damage every year in the United States, according to the National Pest Management Association.
House foundations, wood framing, furniture and shelves are all possible feeding sites for termites. In spring, termites can be seen swarming around windows or doors. Other signs of termite activity include buckling wood, swollen floors and ceilings and areas that appear to be suffering from slight water damage.
Brick and mortar homes are not termite-proof as they have wooden components, such as framing and flooring, that can host termite infestations. It's important to work with a licensed professional to provide regular inspections.
Not repairing leaks
Minor leaks may seem to be just that -- minor -- but leaks or condensation, combined with increasing temperatures in the spring, can create ideal conditions for cockroaches and other pests.
American cockroaches, "camel crickets" and springtails can enter homes through tiny cracks and are attracted to damp areas, both in the attic or crawl space and indoors in the basement, kitchen or bathroom.
Small steps make a big difference. Fix leaking faucets, water pipes and A/C units and eliminate standing water on the roof or in gutters to help prevent an infestation.
What are roof rats? Roof rats - also called black rats or ship rats - are smaller than Norway rats, but cause similar issues. This rodent gets its name from its tendency to be found in the upper parts of buildings. The roof rat is thought to be of Southeast Asian origin, but is now found throughout the world, especially in tropical regions.
Color: Brown with black intermixed; Gray, white or black underside
Shape: Long and thin with scaly tail; large ears and eyes
Size: 16" total (6-8" body plus 6-8" tail)
Region: Coastal states and the southern third of the U.S.
Roof rats are primarily nocturnal. They forage for food in groups of up to ten and tend to return to the same food source time after time. These rats follow the same pathway between their nest and food.
Roof rats live in colonies and prefer to nest in the upper parts of buildings. They can also be found under, in and around structures.
Roof rats secured their place in history by spreading the highly dangerous bubonic plague. Though transmission is rare today, there are still a handful of cases in the U.S. each year. Roof rats can also carry fleas and spread diseases such as typhus, jaundice, rat-bite fever, trichinosis and salmonellosis.
Roof Rat Prevention
To get rid of roof rats and prevent them from entering a home, seal up any holes or cracks larger than a quarter with silicone caulk. Keep trees and shrubs trimmed away from the building and cut back limbs overhanging the roof. Roof rats are drawn to any accessible food sources, so clean up fruit that may fall from trees in the yard and keep garbage in tightly covered receptacles. It's also important to regularly inspect the home and property for signs of a roof rat infestation, including rodent droppings, gnaw marks, damaged goods and greasy rub marks from their oily fur.
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