what's the difference between a rat and a mouse

Pest Q&A: What’s the Difference Between a Rat and a Mouse?

For most people, mice and rats appear to be pretty much the same. After all, both are unwanted pests, especially in houses and apartments. However, these two animals differ in important ways. Recognizing that is the key to ensuring your pest control efforts aren’t wasted.

So, what’s the difference between a rat and a mouse? Here’s a rundown of what you need to know, from variations in size to overall behavior.

Rats: An Introduction


Rats belong to the genus of rodents called Rattus. Members of this genus inhabit every single continent on Earth, but they are thought to be native to India or other Indo-Malayan countries.

Since they live in many different places, the Rattus members bear various names. Some call them house rats, others ship rats, while names such as roof rats and black rats are less common.

Although they can thrive in most conditions, rats usually enjoy wet and humid areas. That is why they often live in sewers, around ports, or in coastal areas in general.

Rats come in numerous sizes, but the most common examples weigh around 1.4 pounds and are about 8 inches long. Their tail is always longer than their entire body, making them appear even larger than they actually are.

As far as diet is concerned, rats usually feed on vegetation. That includes eating fruits, vegetables, grains, cereals, etc. However, they are omnivores, meaning that they can eat small insects and certain invertebrates if they need to.

The lifespan of house rats depends on how they live. In the wild, they usually survive for up to a year. But they can live to be up to 4 years old in captivity if people take them as pets.

Finally, rats are notorious for their fast and uncontrollable mating. Females have up to 12 babies in one litter, and they can have around 7 litters every year. Thus, they can give birth to up to 84 new rats annually.

Mice: An Introduction


Mice belong to the genus known as Mus. They are small mammals with tiny rounded ears and pointy snout noses. Originally from the Mediterranean, they were carried to all parts of the world on ships and other types of human transport.

The most common part of this genus is Mus Musculus, popularly known as the house mouse. As their name suggests, these mice usually live close to humans, in houses and barns. However, they can also inhabit fencerows, cultivated fields, and even some wooded areas on the cusps of smaller towns.

These mammals are quite small, with the biggest members of the species being a little over 3 inches long. They also weigh very little, ranging from 0.03 to 0.05 pounds.

House mice can have differently colored fur, from various shades of brown to deep gray and even black. Regardless of their color, they all usually have a puffy belly covered in soft white fur. Moreover, their tails are the same length as their bodies, and they are devoid of any fur.

Looking at reproduction shows that these animals can give birth to quite a lot of babies, despite their size. Females have an average of 56 babies every year, depending on their age and how much food they have access to.

House mice usually live up to a year in the wild and two in captivity. However, there have been members of the species that lived to be five and six years old, although that is really rare.

Lastly, mice have a varied diet. Those in the wild usually eat plant matter, including different seeds, leaves, stems, and fleshy roots. Smaller insects are also an option, especially beetles. On the other hand, mice living in homes eat just about anything they can find, from actual food to materials such as glue and soap.

The Differences Between a Rat and a Mouse


Although both rodents appear similar, rats and mice are quite different. Here are the important distinctions you should be aware of.

1. Size

Size is perhaps the biggest difference readily seen by the naked eye. While rats can be as large as 10 inches with tails that are even longer, mice do not exceed 3 to 4 inches.

Furthermore, rats always have tails that are longer than their bodies. On the other hand, mice’s tails do not exceed the length of their bodies. Finally, a difference in size brings about a difference in weight as well. Thus, rats are several times heavier than mice.

2. Behavior

Although mice are much smaller than rats, they are bolder and less afraid than their rodent cousins. Mice are curious and love exploring, so you will find them climbing walls and furniture and trying to get into every little hole in your walls or cabinets. But this habit often brings about their downfall, as their curiosity makes them easy to trap.

Conversely, rats are a lot easier to spook, as they will run and hide as soon as they hear a sudden sound. Moreover, they are cautious and won’t touch or try to eat something they find lying around. Thus, they are more challenging to capture than mice.

3. Nesting Habits

Due to their size, mice can nest nearly anywhere they want. They prefer higher places that humans can’t easily reach, including attics and little nooks in walls. In addition, mice are flexible, allowing them to infiltrate your walls and inhabit parts of your home that are so tiny you can’t access them.

In opposition, rats cannot climb that well, so they prefer to stay on the ground level as much as possible. Thus, they make nests in basements and crawl spaces. Their size also makes it a lot harder to hide.

4. Damage

Let’s be clear — both mice and rats can cause a lot of damage in your home, from contaminating your food to biting through cables and anything else they can find. However, their size once again determines how much harm they can really inflict.

Namely, rats have sharper and stronger teeth, which help them break through hard plastic. Some species can even gnaw on materials such as cinder blocks, wood, glass, aluminum, etc. Thus, they might be able to reach your food even if you pack it in tightly sealed containers.

On the other hand, mice cannot access such foods. They can only bite through paper or plastic bags, rubber, and some softer forms of plastic. Therefore, your food might be a bit safer if these tiny pests inhabit your kitchen.

However, both rodent types can wreak havoc by biting your cables. Aside from costing you money for replacements, such incidents are fire hazards and are potentially life-threatening.

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