How to Identify What Type of Rat You Have

July 05, 2018 4 min read

rat in trash can

If you’re experiencing a rat problem, it’s understandable that you want the creatures out of your home as quickly as possible. If you’re like most homeowners, you’ve probably assumed that all rat traps are basically the same—right?

You might be surprised to learn that there are actually more than 50 subspecies of rats, each with its own physical characteristics, behavioral traits, and in many cases, specific diet. Understanding some of the most common types of rats can help you to identify what kind of rat you’re dealing with—which can go a long way toward ridding your home of them for good.

The 4 Most Common Types of Rats

If you’ve encountered a rat or two in or near your home and you live in North America, it’s likely that you’re dealing with one of the following types:

  • Ship rats
  • Norway rats
  • Marsh rice rats
  • Woodrats

Let’s take a closer look at each type of rat, as well as their appearance, location, diet, and common diseases.

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Also known as black rats or roof rats, these rodents are some of the most likely to invade your home. They range from five to seven inches long, with a tail that can be up to eight inches, and they weigh up to half a pound. They have scraggly fur that can be black or medium to light brown. One of their hallmarks is an underside that is lighter than the rest of their body.

Ship rats are found on every continent, but they are most common in coastal areas and tropical climates. However, they are extremely adaptable and can also be found in northern U.S. They are also adaptable when it comes to their diets. Because ship rats are omnivores, they will happily eat seeds, fruit, small animals such as birds, dog and cat food, and everything in between—an important fact to keep in mind when you consider what might be attracting rats to your home.

Ship rats and their parasites have been known to carry several dangerous diseases, including:

  • Bubonic plague
  • Typhus
  • Weil’s disease
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Trichinosis



Norway rats, also known as brown rats, are some of the largest rats out there, often totaling up to 20 inches, including the tail. They can weigh twice as much as a black rat, and they dwarf the common house mouse. Their coarse fur is usually brown or dark grey, and they have a lighter underside.

Norway rats are very adaptable to different climates and temperature zones. They build their nests in underground burrows or at ground level to stay warm. They’re also great swimmers, so you might spot them near lakes and rivers and in backyard pools. Norway rats are found throughout the U.S., particularly in large cities that provide a variety of food sources. As omnivores, they’ll eat anything from small birds and eggs to plant life, small invertebrates, and food scraps.

The main threat of disease from Norway rats is relayed via the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, which causes muscle pain, fever, and headaches in humans.


Marsh rice rats are smaller than most other subspecies, usually with a total length of 12 inches or less. Many look a lot like Norway rats and ship rats, but marsh rice rats have more contrast in color between their bodies, heads, and stomachs. Usually their upper body is gray or grayish brown, while the head is a bit lighter and the underbelly and feet are off-white. Look for their hallmarks of small cheek pouches and ears with a patch of light hair in front of them

The habitat of marsh rats ranges from the East Coast to Texas and into South America. They are most often found in wet, marshy areas, such as near lakes and by the ocean. They are also omnivorous, eating green vegetation and marsh grasses, fungus, rice, insects, snails, small fish, and even the occasional fiddler crab.

Marsh rice rats are the most common host of the Bayou virus, which causes hantavirus infections. They can also carry Lyme disease and a bacteria called bartonella, which causes several diseases in humans.


Also known as packrats, these rodents look distinctively rat-like, with large ears, big black eyes, and a long tail. The subspecies is found in every climate of North America, ranging from arctic Canada to the deserts of the American Southwest.

Their location often dictates how large they grow. For example, bushy-tailed desert woodrats are much larger than mountain-dwelling woodrats. Not surprisingly, these highly adaptable creatures are also omnivorous, seeking out seeds, nuts, leaves, insects, small mammals, and more.

Woodrats are particularly dangerous to humans because they can carry such a wide variety of diseases, including:

  • Arenavirus
  • Hantavirus
  • Typhoid
  • Trichinosis
  • Bubonic plague
  • Salmonella
  • Parasite-borne viruses and disease

Eradicating the Problem

Now that you are armed with more information about the type of rat you may be encountering, it’s time to get them out of your home for good.

Traditional snap and glue traps require too much time and effort, with homeowners continuously needing to set and bait, reset, and check the traps. Not to mention those traps create a lot of suffering for the rat, which is inhumane.  The Goodnature™ A24 Rat and Mouse Trap does away with that problem while quickly killing the rat to eliminate unnecessary suffering. It automatically resets itself after every kill, so you know that it’s always working. Plus, it uses long-life lures that attract any subspecies of rat, whether they are omnivorous or vegetarian. That way, you’ll know that regardless of what type of rat you’re dealing with, your traps are going to work as intended.

To learn more check out our Rats of North America page!

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The Homeowners Guide To Catching Rats & Mice

Every year, rats and mice enter 20 million U.S. homes uninvited. They reproduce rapidly, and can cost thousands of dollars in damages and extermination costs. They can ruin equipment, spoil food and start fires by chewing on wires.

We’ve trapped millions (seriously, millions) of rats and mice and the knowledge of what it takes to achieve success is highlighted in this guide.

Homehowners Guide to Catching Rats


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