Two Types of Pack Rat - Human and Rodent
Pack rates come in two varieties – two legged and four legged.
The two legged variety is very common and is found all over the country and beyond. This human species of pack rat looks and acts like other human beings with the exception that they are compulsive collectors.
These people thrive on junk and clutter. While their homes and offices will never make the pages of style magazines, they can be good people to know when you need a no longer common item or document that most people discarded ages ago.
I got my present job thanks to a self proclaimed pack rat who never threw anything away, including business cards. Two years after a chance meeting with her, she changed jobs and needed someone with my skills in her new position at the college. Retrieving my business card from a box in her garage (which she used for storage of the overflow from her office, not for her car) she found my card, called and offered me the job.
Many a successful eBay seller made a small fortune from the junk that the heirs of pack rats had to get rid of from the homes of the deceased before they could sell the home and settle the estate.
The Four Legged Rodent Variety
Now the four legged rodent species of pack rat is less well known and is confined to specific areas in the Southwestern United States. It is basically a desert dweller and, like its human counterpart, likes to collect things. In addition to differences in size, species and number of legs, the main difference is that the rodent variety tends accumulate from others without permission while the human species just never bothers to throw out what they come by lawfully.
The four legged variety of pack rat used to be an interesting curiosity and occasional nuisance. My Uncle Herman used to tell stories about when he was stationed in the desert along the California – Arizona border for tank training during World War II. The troops lived in tents and the pack rates would get into the tents at night and walk off with coins, rings and other shiny objects. However, they soon learned not to leave these things laying around and that solved the problem.
Today, pack rats are still a common desert dweller and, so long as people keep the doors to their homes closed, aren't much of a problem as far as theft is concerned. However, in recent years these little criminals have branched out into trespassing and vandalism.
Pack rats, by nature, are not criminals. They don't steal intentionally. They are collectors by nature and, when they see something they like they take it. In the same manner, if they see a parked car with a still warm engine on a cold winter's night, they are not adverse to crawling up under the hood and warming themselves. An additional attraction of a car's engine compartment is that while it is easily accessible to a pack rat it is not easily accessible to predators such as bobcats, coyotes, owls and snakes. If the car is returned to the same spot every night, well they can't resist bringing the family and building a nest under the hood. Being nocturnal creatures, they don't sleep much at night so, after dinner they like to kick back, relax and, being rodents, have a good chew. What better thing to chew on than the nearby engine wiring – firm but pliable and obviously, to a pack rat at least, tasty.
Pack Rats camping out under the hoods of people's cars is a problem in the Southwest, because they not only cause expensive damage to cars, (we just paid $130 to replace the chewed up spark plug wiring in my wife's car and that was relatively minor – they hadn't been in long enough to damage the other, more expensive wiring) but once they establish themselves in a car it is very difficult to get rid of them. When pack rat families build nests and move in under the hood of a car, the odor from their feces and urine lingers even after the nests are discovered, destroyed and the rats chased out. While not very noticeable to humans, this odor is easily detectable by other pack rats thereby advertising that car as a good place in which to settle in a raise a family.
Despite my living in Arizona for over 20 years I hadn't had a problem with pack rats until recently when, after dropping my wife's car off for an oil change, I received a call from the mechanic asking if we had a pack rat problem and explained about the chewed up spark plug wires. I immediately checked my son's cars and my car as well as the garage but found no evidence of pack rats. Investigating further, I discovered the problem to be at my wife's new place of work. The hospice where she works sits in a little valley at the base of a small hill. Even though the surrounding area is urban, the geography and development pattern of this area is very low density with lots of wild land which provides habitat for bobcats, coyotes, javelina, various birds and, of course, plenty of pack rats. When my wife told her co-workers about her car they all said they had had problems with chewed wires and that, if she listened carefully, when she stepped outside after work she could hear the pack rats scampering away. So far, we have had no further problems with the pack rats. But I still check under the hood of her car every other day to look for for teeth marks on wires and other evidence of the little vandals.