Joe and Yvette Giangreco have lived in their Summerfield home for 20 years, but last year was the first time they realized rats lived in their neighborhood.
It was August and in her bedroom at 4 a.m., Yvette Greco heard a loud noise. A few days later, she heard it again.
“There was something in the attic,” she said. “It was so loud. It turned out to be a raccoon.”
A pest control company came to remove the animal, and in the process, discovered the Giangrecos had rats living in their attic as well. The company caught two, and the Giangrecos had their home safeguarded against pests by having openings along the roof sealed.
The Giangrecos said they have seen dead rats on sidewalks and in other areas of the community.
“Our goal is to alert the residents, not just in Lakewood Ranch, to let them know what to look for and be proactive to try to prevent them,” Yvette Giangreco said.
“If it wasn’t for the raccoon, we wouldn’t have known,” Joe Giangreco said. “To me, it’s a health and safety concern.”
Fellow Summerfield resident Nancy Morningstar also is unsettled by the number of rats in the area, whether it’s common to Florida or not.
“I’m not used to it,” she said. “I had one dead in my car about two months ago. I’m just not sure what’s attracting them. None of us put garbage out except on pickup day and that’s in a container.”
Although Manatee County has no extension office rodent expert, Carol Wyatt-Evens, an agent for the University of Florida IFAS Extension Office in Sarasota County, said she has seen an increase in the reports of rats.
James Knight, owner of Rodent Solutions in Lakewood Ranch, helped the Giangrecos with their rat problem and said the East County area keeps his staff busy.
“It is a problem, and it’s getting worse,” he said, noting natural habitat is being cleared for development and new communities are designed with retention ponds, landscaping and other features that naturally attract the animals. “It’s getting worse because we’re moving people in.”
Gaps along rooflines can become entry points for rodents looking for places to stay warm or build a nest. Knight said they only need a hole the size of a quarter to enter.
Knight said the most common types of rats in this area are roof rats, who have extra pads on their feet that enable them to scale the side of a stucco house. Birds of prey and snakes will eat them, so keeping them out of the house is the most important step.
Wyatt-Evens said if you don’t hire a professional to seal off gaps, you can stuff steel wool into openings to have the same effect. Rats cannot eat through the steel.
“It’s very pliable. You can put it in small areas,” Wyatt-Evens said. “It’s for people who don’t want to hire a pest control operator. If someone wants to do it themselves, you are providing the same protection. If you have traps out, check them daily.”
Rats also don’t like mothballs, so you can place mothballs in your attic.
Both she and Knight advocate against rodenticides because they can affect other animals, such as a dog or hawk that eats a poisoned rat.
“You can’t prevent rats from being in the wild any more than you can prevent coyotes. What are you going to do?” Knight said. “ Are you going to kill them all? If you have things outside, you can minimize it with habitat modification.”
Knight and Wyatt-Evens said prevention is the best solution. Some best practices include picking up leaves and fruit dropped by trees, removing bird or squirrel feeders from yards and picking up piles of debris.
If you have palm trees, remove the nuts.
“When we go in attics and do decontaminations, you can find hundreds of those, nuts from different trees all over the place,” Knight said. “You are reducing their food supply so it’s making them less likely to want to hang around.”