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Pack Rats

Updated on April 11, 2009

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.

                                            Two Legged Pack Rats
Two Legged Pack Rats
                                      The Smaller 4 - Legged Variety
The Smaller 4 - Legged Variety

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.

Human Pack Rat Clutter
Human Pack Rat Clutter
Human Pack Rats can be found at work also
Human Pack Rats can be found at work also
                  Under the Hood of My Wife's Car - Pack Rats Gone for Now
Under the Hood of My Wife's Car - Pack Rats Gone for Now


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    • profile image

      chuck4389 5 years ago

      We have a severe pack rat problem here in Arizona also. I have developed a device that has been quite successful in keeping the pack rats out of small spaces, specifically engine compartments of cars. More info at

    • profile image

      Mark 6 years ago

      Wish the little rascal would have used the havahart, but just sniffed, snapped my mousetraps, and was eating entirely too many apples. The old Victor leg traps are not forgiving, but they do work.

    • profile image

      selena 6 years ago

      oh dear

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      hitstoleft - thanks for the tip. I did a quick Google search and found a web page for this: I haven't checked further and, since I haven't had a problem with pack rats since writing this a year or go or so, I don't have any use for it at the moment. But if anyone reading this is having a problem with rodents and is looking for something like this, here might be a place to start.

      Thanks again.


    • profile image

      hitstoleft 8 years ago

      I live in rural Nevada. I spend a lot of spare time camping, rock climbing and hiking. Mice and rats are always a concern. I found an item that has many anti-rodent uses. It's a rodent proof bag called a Grubpack. Though it is sold as a mouse and rat resistant food bag for backpackers, I use them for more than that. I store all those rat attracting cloth, plastic and rubber items in my shed. The Grubpack is made of a metal wire mesh with a velcro seal. The bag is flexible, strong and easy to use. And it actually works. They come in different sizes. As I remember, they aren't too expensive. I bought mine on-line.

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 8 years ago from The Land of Tractors

      A friend of mine here in Arizona also had her spark plug wires chewed through by pack rats!

      In the 1950s mice chewed through the wiring in my grandmother's home and her house burned to the ground!

      I like your style. Pack rats of both varieties can be found in Wickenburg, which is why I believe it is such a rich source for garage sales. :)

    • Betty Jo Petty profile image

      Betty Jo Petty 10 years ago from Arkansas, U.S.A.

      Awful, unnecessary expense! Here in Arkansas,USA, we have more of a problem (as far as I've heard) with cats getting inside cars. One girl I met started her car at a small mall and a cat was severely injured. Luckily, there was an animal clinic in the mall. I never found out how it turned out. Another cat went inside a dryer at a Laundro-mat, from the outside vent, and was severely injured. Not good news.

      This should have been prevented with some type of wire screens.

    • profile image

      RickSuddes 10 years ago

      rats Hate Rataway stops rats, mice, raccoons, woodpeckers,

      squirrels, dogs, puppy's, cats, horses,etc... from chewing. Rataway is non-poisonous

      protects commercial buildings, homes, car engines & wiring, motor homes, boats,heavy equipment, farm equipment, around children, pets, service personal.

    • profile image

      Rick Suddes 10 years ago

      For Rats chewing on car wiring & hoses problems go Rats Hate ! w w w --Rataway dot com

      It stops rats,mice,raccoons,dogs,cats, etc... from chewing

      It is Child,pet & serviceman safe

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 11 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Thanks for the comment. I guess there are unique problems wherever one lives. I remember a problem with occasional mice in the house as a very young child, but as an urban dweller in today's world this kind of problem, including pack rats, is not that common which is what startles you when you encounter it. But, that is not a reason to remain ignorant of these things as we still co-exist with these creatures and sometimes find ourselves in their territory or vice versa.

      Thanks again for the added information.


    • profile image

      bobmnu 11 years ago

      Chewing on wires and rubber hoses is a common problem any place there are rodents. Several years ago we wrer renting a house in the country and we bought a new washing machine late in October. Once they harvested the corn we noticedthat we had signs of mice in the house. this is not an uncommon problem in rural areas. About a month later we knotced that our new washing machine was leaking. We called a service man because it was undeer warrenty. He found the problem the hoses were chewed through. The company had coated the hoses with a fine greese to keep them pliable during transporting. The repairman solved the problemby rodering new hoses and cleaning them before he isntalled them.

      Good Article and people should be checking for such problems.