In the wild, packrats make their dens (called middens) hidden in thick clumps of cacti or in tight rocky crevices where only snakes can reach them. This is why some leggy lizards evolved into legless lizards called “snakes”. Under these hunting conditions, legs would be an impediment. In our yard, their favorite nesting places are either in a hole under our largest gaggle of prickly pear or the 1.3-inch-wide space between a retaining wall and our hot tub.Read More
Around human dwellings, packrats can be incredibly destructive. In the process of making their elaborate dens into comfortable, well-insulated, and nearly impregnable fortresses, they will appropriate almost any material, including twigs, discarded carpet or cloth, animal fur, dryer lint, cardboard, plastic … almost any clutter we leave around. But by far their favorite building material is found under the hood of a car that has remained stationary for one-too-many nights.
A few years ago I flew over to Orange County (CA) to visit, Mr. Woodry, my friend of 45 years, and drive with him back to Tucson. Mr. Woodry is mostly disabled now, but his pride and joy is a Corvette Z06. While he scoots around OC on his own in this camouflage-yellow rocket, he was hesitant to drive cross-country to Tucson alone. So we shared the driving “chores” eastward on I-8. You would be amazed how quickly one can travel from El Cajon to Casa Grande in a vehicle that doesn’t red line until somewhere past 200 mph. Finest car I have ever driven.
That said, once in Tucson we parked the Vette in our carport for several days and nights while Ms. Karen, Mr. Woodry, and I toured Southern Arizona in our humble 5-passenger Ford Edge. Several days later Mr. Woodry and I got into the Vette to go down the hill to the DQ for his favorite treat: a chocolate malt.
We had not driven two miles when we smelled something burning. We pulled off the road and peaked under the hood, there to discover a large, sophisticated packrat nest smoldering atop the 505-hp engine. While the outer perimeter was primarily constructed of twigs, the interior lair was all insulation stripped from under the hood.
The following day we were at the Chevy dealer on Auto Mall Drive considering ourselves lucky. Packrats are notorious for chewing through fuel lines, ignition wiring, fan belts, and anything else that keeps a combustion engine operational. All we had to do was have the service guys replace the hood insulation.
Packrats are also referred to as “woodrats”, of which there are about 25 species. I have no idea as to the species we deal with here in the Tucson Mountains. However, I am aware that paleobotanists study their droppings in ancient middens to determine changes in climate over thousands of years. Apparently, midden-studies have replaced plant seed analysis for determining variances in climate as far back as 50,000 years.
With few exceptions, we don’t kill the little rascals. As destructive as packrats are, we use live traps and relocate them down by the river. However, it’s much easier just to make sure there isn’t nesting material lying around. No nesting material, no packrats. No packrats, no rattlesnakes. No rattlesnakes, no costly anti-venom treatments.
Packrats are also known to have a somewhat symbiotic relationship with the dreaded Kissing Bug, aka: Conenose Bug, whose habits are a bit like the bed bug and are sometimes known as the Mexican Bedbug. Beware of this critter, potentially more dangerous than the rattler. More to come on that in another post.
You can find out more about living with our Southern Arizona critters here: Dangerous Critters.