Here’s Where Rats Really Go And Live During The Day

Brown rat

“Wouldn’t it be great if more rats would come out during the daytime when I’m awake?” Thought probably no one ever! But if we don’t see them, where do rats go and live during the day?

Rats are nocturnal creatures that are most active during the nighttime. Being more active in darkness makes them able to hide from predators with greater success. During the day, rats generally live and sleep in dark hidden places to ensure their survival.

Read on to find out where these daytime hideouts are located and why rats chose to live in those spots!

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Types of Rats You May Find During The Day

Before diving into where they can be found in the daytime, let’s look at exactly which species of rats are being discussed here.

In the United States, two primary species of rat live in and around human populations: brown (Rattus norvegicus) and black (Rattus rattus). Brown rats can be found throughout the entire United States while black rats are more likely to be found in humid areas such as the west coast, south, and southeast.

Brown and black rats share several similarities and differences regarding appearance and habitat. Understanding the key features of both species helps to better understand where each is often located during the day.

Let’s take a closer look at these characteristics for each species!

Brown Rats

Wild Brown Rat

Appearance 

Brown rats are typically brown or dark gray, with lighter underparts. They are much larger than black rats, sometimes even twice their size! Their bodies range from 8 to 10 inches with an equally long tail. Adult males can weigh up to 12 ounces while females are usually no heavier than 9 ounces. Brown rats also have short ears.

Habitat

Brown rats live almost exclusively under or very close to the ground. They build nests in underground burrows or on the ground floor of dwellings. These underground burrows are highly sophisticated networks designed for efficiency and safety.

Burrows allow the brown rat to minimize time spent out in the open during the day where they are much more likely to encounter predators. Brown rats frequently line their nests with shredded paper, cloth, or any other fibrous material that can be acquired.  

Brown rats are also known as sewer rats as they thrive in the nearly constant sources of water and food (human feces) located in such an environment. Yuck! This explains why floods almost always lead to immediate increases in rat infestations above ground.

As you might expect, brown rats are excellent swimmers known to navigate distances up to an incredible 600 meters or roughly 2,000 feet!

Black Rats

Black Rat on countertop

Appearance

Despite their name, black rats can actually exhibit a range of color forms. They are usually black to light brown with a lighter underside. Black rats are smaller than brown rats, typically reaching a fully grown length of 5 to 7 inches with a 6 to 9-inch tail. Their coats consist of scraggly black hairs regardless of their overall appearance. Unlike brown rats, black rats have long ears.

Habitat

Black rats live almost exclusively in high places. They are arboreal creatures, spending extensive time navigating trees, vines, and dense shrubs where they build their nests. As you might expect, black rats are extremely skilled climbers able to navigate up nearly every surface they encounter.

Black rats are also commonly known as roof rats. They frequently navigate between urban dwellings along roofs, gutters, fences, and electrical wires. Similar to their brown counterparts, black rats travel this way primarily to minimize time spent in the open where they are more vulnerable to predators. Their dark colors provide an additional layer of protection when they are active. 

Rat Behavior During The Daytime

Brown rat on a trunk at night

Both species of rat considered here, brown and black, are similar in the behaviors they exhibit to survive. Their primary needs of water, food, and shelter are the same as all other living creatures, including humans.

Yes, like it or not, you do share something in common with these long-tailed creatures! Luckily, rats go and live in darker places and sleep during the day, so they’re at least taking a nap while you’re up and away.

Rats Are Nocturnal

Nearly all animals operate under the influence of a 24-hour pattern known as the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm of rats consists of long periods of sleep during daylight hours and periods of high activity during hours of darkness.

More specifically, rats are frequently crepuscular, meaning that their most active periods occur shortly after sunset and shortly before sunrise and not during the day. These are the primary times when rats leave their nests in search of food, water, or to find a suitable mate for reproduction.

Ultimately, during the day, this leads to rats trying their best to avoid the site of humans and other predators, especially when in your house.

Rats Are Clever At Avoiding Predators

Being most active in times of darkness gives rats multiple advantages. Most importantly, it helps them better avoid predators during the day. Generally speaking, animals that are harder to see are harder to hunt. Rats are no exception.

Conditions of limited to no natural light during the night allow rats to focus on eating and reproducing without the constant threat of attack.

Rats also minimize their exposure to predators during the day by their foraging habits. Brown rats use their extensive underground burrows to limit the amount of time spent out in the open. For example, by burrowing around certain types of plants and trees, rats gain easy access to nuts and seeds without the need for long distances of scurrying above the ground. 

Black rats use their superior climbing abilities to accomplish the same goal.

As general omnivores, black rats can easily identify small creatures in and around the trees, vines, and shrubs where they live. They make short excursions to either eat or capture these creatures before quickly returning to their positions of relative safety.

While birds of prey are a constant threat given their arboreal dwellings, black rats feast on eggs and baby birds as an important source of food.

This all leads to rats completely avoiding areas of light during the day. When you see a rat during the day, it’s generally an anomaly OR you have several rats, increasing your chances of one being active during the day.

Rats rely on Smell and Taste

Another key advantage of being nocturnal concerns rats’ notoriously bad eyesight. Scientists who study rats estimate that the maximum distance of their visual field is limited to 10 feet or less. Rats overcome this visual deficit with an extraordinary sense of smell and taste. These traits allow rats to easily differentiate between edible and nonedible materials in their environments.

While brown rats typically hunt alone, black rats work together to ensure that all members of a nest or group have ample food supplies.

In addition to using their keen sense of smell to identify food sources, both species rely on smell to identify and locate other rats. By doing so, rats can easily communicate with one another regarding anything from areas of potential danger, the location of predators, and sources of food and shelter that help the species adapt and survive to their surroundings. 

If rats smell a food source during the day, it may be enough to ruin their sleep cycle for a moment to go investigate.

Interested in learning more? Take a look at our article 15 Scents That Rats Hate (And How To Use Them)

Rats have a high reproduction rate

The reproductive rate of all rats is extremely high. Brown and black female rats produce 3-6 litters per year with 7-8 or more young. Adults average just a 1-year lifetime. This rate means that a typical female brown or black rat can produce somewhere between 21-48 offspring in its lifetime.

Scientists estimate that a single male and female pair of brown or black rats could give rise to over one billion offspring over 3 years!

Armed with background knowledge of what rats look like, where they live, and how they act, let’s turn our focus to where rats are most likely to be found during the day. 

Locating Rats During The Day

The best advice for where rats go during the day is found in the following maxim: look up, look down. 

Where rats go And Live Outside The Home During The Day

Two rats near a trash bag

Rats will typically take up residence around a structure before eventually trying to gain access inside.

Where Outdoor Brown Rats Go During The Day

Here are the low places where rats, primarily members of the brown species, are likely to turn up first during the day:

  • Plants
  • Grass
  • Gardens
  • Flowerbeds 
  • Decks

During daylight hours, brown rats will typically be found sleeping in the above locations. Burrows and tunnels are commonly found in and around plants, grass, gardens, and flowerbeds near dwellings.

Signs indicating the likely presence of rats in these areas include 2-4 inch smooth holes in soil or mulch, slightly flattened strips of grass indicating “runways” or common routes of nighttime travel, and the presence of droppings which are brown, cylindrical pellets that are usually about 1/2 -1 inch long and about ⅛ of an inch in diameter.

In addition to these common locations, brown rats will also take up residence under nearly any source of yard debris such as leaves, weeds, excessive grass clippings, and woodpiles.

Where Outdoor Black Rats Go During The Day

Here are the high places black rats live are likely to be found during the day:

  • Trees
  • Bushes
  • External walls
  • Sheds and garages

The presence of bundled-up twigs or other materials in trees is likely rat nests. The same goes for bushes. The fruit on fruit-bearing trees may reveal bite marks.

External walls and windows that contain visible openings or damage may indicate the presence of rats. The same is true for high places around walls and ceilings, especially those of sheds and garages.

A quick note, if you have rats in your shed, you may want to take a look at our guide on how to keep rats out of your shed here.

Other Signs Of Rats Outside During The Daytime

Both species of rats will take advantage of any points of access they can find in and around human dwellings. Because rats can squeeze through openings as small as a quarter, any crack, hole, or other damage around the perimeter of a dwelling will eventually be exploited to gain entry.

In addition to these visible clues, other common signs indicate the presence of rats. One is the smell! Due to their small bladders, rats urinate almost constantly as they run. Rat urine has a distinctively pungent smell that most consider to be disgusting.

If such a smell is detected, you have likely identified a key path used by rats to access food or water during times of relative darkness. Following the smell may lead you to the location of one or more nearby nests where the rats can be found sleeping during the daytime hours.

Another common sign of rats living nearby is noise. Rats are not exactly quiet creatures. They often communicate with each other by squeaking sounds that are quite audible.

Such noises coming from trees, bushes, walls, or other locations indicate the nearby presence of rat nests. Homeowners should always follow up on any such noises heard inside the home such as in the walls, flooring, basement, or attic.  

Where Rats Go And Live Inside The Home during The Day

A house rat climbing around on a pile of rusty cooking pots
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Once rats have taken up residence near a dwelling, it is only a matter of time before they will try to gain entry to the inside. They will do so for several reasons. First, inside locations offer warmth.

Even in unheated sheds or garages, rats take advantage of the added protection from the elements and weather that go along with any indoor location.

Second, these locations offer great protection from predators. Finally, indoor locations provide additional access to food beyond what can be found in nature.

Where Indoor Brown Rats Go During The Day

As brown rats seek shelter in low places, they will frequently build nests in basements, underneath ground-level flooring, behind baseboards on the first floor, and any other available spaces between the foundation and walls.

The primary source of entry into these spaces is through cracks and holes in the home’s foundation or through poorly sealed doors and low windows.

A thorough inspection around the home’s perimeter may reveal areas of vulnerability that may need to be addressed.

Where Indoor Black Rats Go During The Day

As black rats seek shelter in high places, they will frequently build nests in attics, above ceilings, and between walls near the highest level of the home. Attics are an especially appealing location, particularly those with insulation.

Insulation makes a near-perfect location for a rat nest as it provides warmth and safety in addition to being easily navigable by way of tunneling to other access points in the home such as pipes, vents, and other openings.

Knowing that black rats are primarily tree-dwelling creatures, it is easy to see how overhanging branches above any structure such as a shed, garage, or roof offer convenient access through any crack, hole, or another opening imaginable. Inspecting these areas is best left to a professional exterminator.

Indicators Of Rats Living In Your Home During Daytime

Homeowners should be aware of two other common visible indicators of rats in the home. Greasy or oily smudges along baseboards and walls may indicate the presence of rats.

As rats typically travel along the same routes once established, such visible markers indicate that rats have rubbed against these surfaces many times as they scurry back and forth between their nests and sources of food.

Popular places to check for rats living inside would be in and around pantries, refrigerators, and any cabinets where food may be routinely stored.

Gnaw marks are another common indicator of rats inside the home. Such marks may occur near any access points between walls, baseboards, pipes, or wires. Special attention should be given to wires in these locations as rats are known to have started fires by chewing through electrical wires with ease. Rats can even chew through duct tape!

Again, you’re less likely to notice actual rats during the day but VERY likely to notice any of these signs in the daytime.

Any sign of teeth marks on or near food packaging such as boxes, plastic, or other storage containers would indicate the tell-tale presence of rats. So would any unusual trails of food or packaging material leading away from areas of food storage.

To learn more about how the rats got into your house in the first place, check out our article 5 Ways Rats Got Into Your House (And How To Get Them Out). 

Parting Thoughts

Rats have and will always coexist with human populations. Eliminating rats is as unrealistic as simply allowing them to take over our homes and other structures!

Understanding where rats live in the day and how they behave at night is important in any homeowner’s efforts to identify if and where a problematic rat population may exist.

We hope this article provided some further insight into the life of rats and that you’ll have a better idea of their daytime whereabouts the next time you encounter one!

If you’re looking for more ways to keep rats out of your home for good, take a look at our guide: 5 Simple Ways To Get Rid Of Rats Fast In Your Home

References

Stephan, F. K. (1983). Circadian rhythms in the rat: constant darkness, entrainment to T cycles and to skeleton photoperiods. Physiology & Behavior30(3), 451-462.

Schweinfurth, M. K. (2020). The social life of Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus). Elife9, e54020.

Wallace, D. J., Greenberg, D. S., Sawinski, J., Rulla, S., Notaro, G., & Kerr, J. N. (2013). Rats maintain an overhead binocular field at the expense of constant fusion. Nature498(7452), 65-69.

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