Why Rats Prefer Familiar Food Over New Bait
All About Rats
Dealing with a rat problem can be a confusing and frustrating experience: you have to figure out what is attracting them, how they are getting in, and what kind of trap to use. However, one important decision that you might not consider immediately is your choice of rat bait—after all, rats are famous for their ability to eat almost anything. This can lead many people to try several kinds of bait, switching them out to see which one works best. Unfortunately, this approach can lead to your rat trap not working as it should, as rats might not accept new or unfamiliar foods. In order to ensure rat trap success, it is important to take the natural food preferences of rats into consideration when choosing your bait.
Rats are some of the most successful mammals on the planet, and part of their success is because of their ability to survive on a wide and varied diet. They can do this because they are omnivores, meaning that they can eat plant matter, as well as meat. They are also generalist feeders, which means that they can adapt their diet to the availability of food in their environment. While these abilities have allowed rats to survive and thrive, it does not mean that rats are indiscriminate eaters. Different species of rats have adapted to different habitats, and these habitats often dictate each species’ dietary needs and preferences. As a result, the best bait foods will vary depending on species.
In addition to the dietary preferences of specific species, rats have also developed behavioral adaptations for selecting food that is both safe and nutritious. In particular, a preference for familiar foods allows rats to monitor and control their nutritional intake. Although the ability to survive on a variety of foods has definite advantages, a rat’s first priority is survival, and it will typically favor a familiar, reliable source of nutrition over one that is unknown.
This behavior is a survival mechanism; in the wild, rats must be able to survive on an unpredictable and inconsistent diet, so any steady food source becomes valuable. As such, rats will, with time, incorporate known, reliable food sources into their diets to maximize and stabilize their nutritional intake. Unfortunately, if you already have a rat problem, that means the rat population has already found a reliable, nutritionally valuable food source. This source could be anything from garbage to improperly stored pet food; it could even be your own food, if the rats can access it. With an established source of food, any rat bait might be less attractive to the rats, even if it is a type that species usually prefers, so it is always wise to evaluate and remove any possible preexisting food sources to limit the rats' resources.
Rats are also creatures of habit. Just as they will return to familiar habitats, they will also return to foods that they have eaten safely in the past. This means that the rats must first habituate to any newly offered bait item before it is readily accepted. Rats are also adept at discerning differences in foods, even if the foods seem visually similar. They can do this by using their h3 sense of smell, which allows them to quickly identify and recognize different food items.
Rats also have a h3 sense of taste, and they will sometimes avoid food that contains new ingredients or that tastes unfamiliar. This not only allows a rat to select the most nutritious food, it also allows it to avoid food that is potentially spoiled or poisoned. However, this preference also means that inconsistent bait choices can negatively impact rat trap success.
A rat must evaluate any new and unfamiliar food for safety and nutritional usefulness before it will incorporate the food into its diet, and even changes that might seem minor to human senses could deter a rat from taking the bait. As such, while it can be tempting to try a new bait food when a trap does not work immediately, repeatedly switching bait types will only prevent the rats from habituating to it.
All for one
The collective behavior of rats can also affect food preferences. Rats are social animals, and individual rats will often rely on others in their colony to find and evaluate food sources. They can do this, in part, by smelling the food on other rats. If those rats eat the food regularly and survive, then others in the colony are much more likely to eat it as well. In this way, an individual rat can function as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, warning others of potential dangers or inadequate food types. This kind of social adaptation not only helps rats find food more easily, it also allows a rat population to efficiently establish a food source as safe. It also means that, depending on the size of the rat population, it can take time for a new bait type to be readily accepted. One way to increase rat bait acceptance is to offer it outside of traps, so it can spread through the colony more quickly and thus be recognized as a safe and reliable food source.
Consistency is key
As you can see, rats have developed many adaptations to find the safest, most nutritionally advantageous food available, but what does all this mean for trapping rats? Consistency is key. Once you have identified the species of the rat population and chosen foods they naturally prefer, you must give them time to habituate to it. Resist the urge to switch out bait foods, even if nothing seems to be eating it yet, as this will just extend the time it takes for the rats to accept it.
While you wait, try to locate and eliminate any alternative food sources so that your bait becomes the best or only source the rats have. Finally, if you’ve consistently used the same bait and you still find your rat trap not working, try offering the bait elsewhere, so the rats can recognize it as safe and learn to seek it out.
Since rats are very smart and may be able to detect poisons, a trap that works with a variety of bait is the best choice. A safe and humane method is the A24 Automatic Rat & Mouse Trap. The trap does not use any poisons, and gives you the option of using your own lures with the DIY Lure Basket.