tomato eater

Decatur, GA

I have chipmunks, squirrels and these guys in my yard and I also believe the big type of rats but I haven't seen them lately. My tomatoes have been completely decimated this year and I haven't been able to tell who is doing the damage. My little rat terrier cornered this creature on the end of a tomato plant branch last evening. Believe it or not I was able to go get my camera, take some pictures and then get a bucket and stick and knock him into the bucket. Unfortunately he still escaped.
Does anyone know what this is? It is bigger than a mouse and not as big as the brown rats I used to have a lot of in the yard before I got an exterminator to seal up my house!! Also does anyone have any suggestions on how to protect my tomato plants for the rest of the season? Would it be reasonable to protect the plants with bird type (plastic) netting? I have tried the Havahart pepper repellent without success.

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Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

If it's bigger than a mouse and with that tail, I would guess a rat - maybe a baby one. Good you called the exterminator. He could identify it for you!!.

Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

Yeah, it's a rat. Our neck of the country has a lot of them living wild and you can exterminate a few but it's like trying to exterminate squirrels. As long as they don't move inside the house I wouldn't bother spending money on them.

Bird netting will be of no use; they can chew through it and are plenty smart enough to pull it off or go under it anyway. It might have a negative effect, since the plastic bird netting traps and kills the snakes that keep your rat/chipmunk/squirrel population in check.

If you don't have a source of water available, you might try that. A lot of animals raid juicy fruits like tomatoes because they are thirsty, especially when it gets hot.

It's been a killer year for chipmunks here. Other than losing most of my strawberries to them, since that's what they prefer to eat, they haven't raided my garden just yet.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Helen - love your deck! Wish I had one!

I agree with Nicole.

Decatur, GA

Thanks. There is no issue with thirst around here. We have gotten tons of rain and so there are saucers of water everywhere around the plants and deck. Plus I have a water garden at the bottom of the steps. What draws them here mostly is the bird feeder detritus. I wish the birds were tidier.
Thanks Honeybee on the deck comment. I had a 10x12 deck but last summer I had it expanded to 16x24 as my 'victory lap' when I retired. I got paid for unused vacation time and that was what I used to pay for it. Great decision!! Its like having an extra room.
I was thinking the netting might deflect the rodents, at least act as a deterrent and send them in another direction. The could of course chew right through the plastic if they wanted.

mid central, FL(Zone 9a)

the netting will be of no use to stop rats and will kill snakes and birds........:-(

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

You could use 1/2" or 1" hardware cloth (comes in various lengths and widths) and "screen" in your deck. Hardware cloth provides more open air and view since it's not as tight a weave as typical screen. Live traps might work for them. The big mouse or rat traps might hurt cats, etc, so I don't think I'd use them, nor poison. Make some loaves of bread and put them way away from the house, along with water. (Or down the road, lol) That might deter them.

SW, AR(Zone 8a)

Thanks for the story and the pics, highly interesting.

Such is the result of using raptors for target practice, the “the only good snake is a dead snake” view, and habitat decimation. Think urban development and clear cutting, for starters.

It reads as though you have a good ratter. You might want to get it a partner for the hunt.

New Port Richey, FL

Helen, I had the varmint problem several years ago when Living in a more rural and wooded area. Traps and poisons weren't an option because of pets and chickens. I'd sit on the back porch at night and listen to the owls and would see mice and rats trying to get at the bird feeder hanging from a tree over some shrubs. I moved the feeder to an open area closer to the porch and set out a small bowl of sunflower seeds at night and waited with my BB gun. I knew we had rats but this looked like a scene from Willard. Before I could get off a shot 2 owls swooped down and 2 rats were gone. By the time I went to bed I'd refilled the bowl 3 times and had at least 6 owls in the trees. After a few weeks the rat population was way down and I had lots of fat owls hanging around. I still go over and visit the neighbors and they still "feed" the owls on a regular basis. Draw 'em out in the open for the predators. This also works with squirrels and hawks.

Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

If they are attracted to the bird feeder junk you could try shelled sunflower seeds. Some birds are messy and still drop pieces but there's certainly a lot less of a pile of junk below the feeder.

Other sanitation measures, like not having an open compost pile and being sure the dog food is securely locked up may help reduce food and shelter options. Also keep your shed and equipment neat and clean and have everything hung up (no piles of stuff) and get rid of any beds of ivy and keep any vines trimmed back neatly.

Your dog sounds like he is doing a great job. Sometimes terriers can be a little...overzealous... in their hunting endeavors!

You can exclude rats from particular plants by building a cage of hardware cloth, but if they are really interested they can dig under the wire.

Decatur, GA

Very good suggestions NicoleC. I try to follow most of them but fences and porches make for lots of hiding places and escape routes. The compost is secure and there is no dog food outside.
I am thinking of building a secure cage out of hardware cloth. I might start with the plants on the porch and if it works make a bigger on in my garden area.
Buddy, the rat terrier is a very dedicated rodent hunter. His success rate is pretty low but he never stops the pursuit. Now TBone, my Toy Fox Terrier, isn't as interested or even slightly effective in the hunt. His energies go towards scolding Buddy for getting so excited!

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Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

I think you'd have fewer mice and rats if you could adopt two or three grown cats. Or a momma with a litter.

Decatur, GA

We have coyotes in the neighborhood who regularly eat cats. If I had a cat it would have to be an inside pet. Plus cats do too much damage to the birds. We have owls, hawks and as I said coyotes around here that help keep the pest populations down. I think the solution is a tomato cage...

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Yep, owls and hawks eat cats as well as mice. So that idea is out, lol.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Hawks also eat small dogs. I almost lost mine as a puppy to a red tailed hawk!

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

Here's a clever idea to help with rodents...

I hope the little attached video works.

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Decatur, GA

Willy, I didn't find any link to a video. Please try again. Thnx.

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

I can't make the link work. The idea goes like this: Take a 16 oz (or so) plastic water bottle and run a thin rod thru it, end-to-end. The rod should be maybe 1/8 inch diameter by 2 feet long. Now you have a bottle that you can spin around on the rod. Next, drill two holes in a five gallon bucket. The holes should be just big enough to handle the rod diameter and should be on opposite sides of the bucket right at the top lip of the bucket. Next, suspend the rod/bottle assembly over the bucket thru the two holes. Smear a narrow ring of peanut butter around the entire middle of the bottle. Provide a ramp (2 X 4 or such) from the ground to one end of the rod at the top of the bucket. Mice go up the ramp, crawl onto the bottle which then rotates on the rod and dumps them into the bucket. Do with the mice as you will.

I don't know how to do D-Mail, but if you can D-Mail me, I can attach the little video into a return D-mail (at least it works in a regular e-mail like that).

Decatur, GA

I found lot more evidence of damaged(eaten). Buddy cornered another roof rat up in a tomato plant after dark several days ago.
I decided to take the bull by the horns and keep the critters off my tomato plants!! As you can see I went to extreme measures with hardware cloth. Its not exactly pretty but I might get a tomato!
I know this will send the rats to the garden patch for now. But at least my porch plants are protected. I think next year I will build a proper cage for my tomatoes, probably on the porch.

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Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Helen - great idea! That should keep the varmints from eating your tomatoes.

Decatur, GA

Thanks Honeybee. I can't imagine how they could eat the tomatoes now!!!

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Helen - From personal experience I know squirrels will chew metal until it's soft enough to bend so they can eat birdseed!

Let's keep our fingers crossed that they won't bother chewing through your tomato cages. LOL

Decatur, GA

My fingers are crossed, for sure.

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