Why “Rat Control” Using Snap and Live Traps Rarely Works…

This article, authored by Jerry Cates, was first penned on 28 December 2022, and last revised on  7 January 2023© Bugsinthenews Vol. 24:12(01).

Using Traps to Exterminate Rats… Good, or Bad?  Anyone who  attempts to trap rats using snap-traps or live traps usually catches a few. Further, the original snap-trap seems to work as well today as when it was introduced, way back before the 17th century. Live traps capture their share as well. However, though trapping almost always succeeds in killing and capturing a few rats, it only rarely brings a rat infestation to a halt. In fact, live traps almost never succeed. Once a rat is captured in a live trap, its predicament is quickly discerned by every rat that happens by, teaching them to avoid live traps with a passion. Thus, while live trapping offers the illusion of progress, it actually makes a rat infestation worse. Snap-traps have a slightly better record, but only when they are employed in a very special way. When done right, the use of snap-traps does provide a chance of eliminating a rat infestation altogether, but at an extremely high cost in terms of materials and labor.


Warning: the method described below will not work if the rats at the infested site have previously been subjected to the use of snap-traps — there or anywhere else — administered using less rigorous procedures. A percentage of the rats that have survived a poorly conceived and sloppily administered trapping project become so trap-averse that they will never allow themselves to be caught in a trap the rest of their lives. If only a few rats become trap-averse, they are able, by themselves, to continue breeding fresh litters of rats, re-constituting the previous rat infestation, as soon as the trapping program ends.

The special way to successfully trap rats involves the use of large banks (10-20 traps in each bank) of snap-traps, along with a source of water (e.g., a water bowl supplied with a reservoir that refills the bowl as the rats drink the water.) The water is an essential part of the trapping program, because rats require a lot of water when they feed, and if it is not close by, they will have to go to another source of water to complete their meal. That reduces the likelihood that the banks of traps will become their preferred source of food. And, unless the rats habituate to the traps as their dedicated food source, trapping will fail to bring the rat infestation to a halt…

So, you do all that. What’s next?

Initially, the traps in each bank have to be deployed in an un-set (non-lethal) condition. They should also be either tethered with cord or screwed to a panel, so that — during stage two — the rats that get wounded but are still ambulatory won’t wander off, into hidden places where they cannot be found. The traps also have to be placed in a dark location where — during the nighttime — the rats that visit them cannot visualize the traps well but must feel their way around them.

So, you’ve set up the traps properly, and put them where they should be. Now what?

The un-set traps are next provisioned with small amounts of various kinds of attractive food materials such as cheese, nut-butter, bacon, bacon grease, and ham. Don’t use one kind of food alone. The variety of food satisfies the culinary preferences of every rat that comes by, and — believe it or not — rats are as picky about their food as we humans. The setting just described entices the rats to feed off of the un-set traps and drink from the water bowl, several times a day, to the point that they begin to consider the banks of traps to be their preferred and dedicated sources of food.

During this stage, the traps and water bowls only need to be serviced once a day.

Continue this initial stage until the rats have depleted all the food on all the un-set traps for 4-7 days in a row. At that point, the traps can again be provisioned with food, and set to kill. 

At this final stage, the trapper’s full concentration must be focused on the job at hand, for as many hours as it takes to kill the very last rat in the place. The traps must be serviced constantly, and quickly … the very second a trap is heard to snap. This means the trapper must be positioned immediately outside the trapping space, within hearing distance of the snapping traps. Every time a trap snaps, the trapper must access the snapped trap, euthanize the wounded rat if it is not yet dead, then remove the dead rat and re-set the trap. If servicing is delayed, one or more un-trapped rats will discover their killed or wounded brethren and a few will become alerted to the danger the trap poses, whereupon they will never be fooled by even an un-set rat trap, ever again. 

Usually, if the trapper immediately services every trap that snaps, and continues doing so — without a lapse — until several hours have passed without trapping another rat, extermination of the extant rat population at that site will be successful. Most such infestations take 24 hours of constant, uninterrupted monitoring, as described above, to fully exterminate an existing rat infestation. 

I have used snap-traps in accord with the above approach a number of times, always with great success. However, my clients paid a heavy price, and so did I, in terms of labor and material expense. Once begun, any delay anywhere along the way, invariably leads to failure. And failure means not only that the trapping procedure doesn’t work, but that the surviving rats will nor only never go near another trap, but will now be suspicious of any other method of extermination attempted by man.

Rats are that smart.

My clients tend to be at least as smart as their rats. Most are actually much smarter, and a lot more compassionate, in fact. As a rule, that translates (when it can) into a decision on their part to accept my use of another means — other than trapping — to exterminate their rodent infestation. Successful trapping programs are expensive and time consuming. But the deciding factor isn’t just the cost. Trapping carries a number of other complications and risks that I and most of my clients prefer not to deal with.

Among these are the ethical implications involved with wounding, rather than outright killing, the trapped rats. But more than ethics is involved, because a wounded rat vocalizes loud distress pleadings that alert other rats to the dangers the traps pose, teaching those within hearing distance to stay away from any traps they happen to see in the future.

As many as 25-75% of the rats that trigger a snap trap are not killed outright. Some survive, fully conscious, even when their heads are caught, and those rats suffer in agony until they finally expire. Others have only an appendage caught, and because their head is free, the trapper has to euthanize them by another means — using a club or similar tool — to avoid being bitten before removing their cadavers from the trap.

In many cases the trapped appendage is nothing more than the rat’s tail. In many cases the snap-band succeeds in amputating the tail, freeing the rat to live another day. Barring amputation, the affected rat either pulls its tail loose or bites it through before the trapper arrives to administer a killing blow. Such rats survive with tails that are forever maimed, and their permanent scars — both physical and mental — testify to their “bout with the trap” throughout the remainder of their lives. I almost never use snap-traps to control rats, but when I do I follow the above-mentioned procedure to the letter. When I monitor an area for rodent activity using wildlife cameras I often capture images of rats with stubby or kinked tails. Those images tell me somebody nearby has a “rat problem” they’re trying to solve using snap-traps. As you might imagine, rats so maimed are not likely to ever allow themselves to fall victim to rat traps in the future.

The above issues are bad enough, but another significant risk also accompanies the use of snap-traps. Whenever a rat is killed by a snap-trap, the ectoparasites on the rat’s body — rat and bird mites, fleas, as well as ticks, sometimes in large numbers — quickly vacate the cadaver and begin searching for a fresh, live host. The human trapper is, generally by definition, the closest recipient of the parasites’ affection unless thoroughly awash in strong ectoparasite repellants, from head to toe. Unfortunately, the home or business owner, and anyone else who happens to come close to the killing field, won’t be so careful. Those ectoparasites continue searching for another host for 10-30 days… Need I say more?

Murphy’s Law: Nothing’s as easy as it looks.

I know what you’re thinking. “What about other kinds of traps, like the electrocution zappers that always kill…” They do eliminate most ethical issues for the rats that they neutralize, but others, like the wandering ectoparasites, remain unresolved. Rats that find their electrocuted brethren are taught thereby to avoid such traps like the plague. In other words, electrocution and similar traps may kill a few rats, but — as a rule — they cannot bring a rat infestation to a halt.

So, then, if trapping is off the table, what is left? Today, two rodent eradication methods work wonders, if done right. One uses contraceptives — rodent birth control that chemically sterilizes the males and females — to prevent rats from breeding. The other uses delayed action rodenticides to feed rats a neutralizing dose. We use both, in our specially constructed E2M2C™ dispensing stations that not only rats, but mice as well, find unusually alluring. Our E2M2C™ service protocols ensure the dispensing stations are easily accessible by rats and mice, but prevent non-target animals from getting inside. We work with our clients to show them how to remove conducive conditions that attract and nurture rats and mice in their homes, businesses and grounds, so that the E2M2C™ program can operate at optimum efficiency. And we conduct assays of each service event to document the program’s effectiveness and drive sensible adjustments to the number and placement of the E2M2C™ stations at each site.

Email me at entomobiotics@gmail.com, or call me at 512-426-9883 and I’ll arrange to meet with you at any rodent-infested site in Texas. I’ll explain, while there, how the E2M2C™ program can be employed to end your rat and mouse problems quickly and permanently. For more information about that program, you may also want to read our regularly updated article “E2M2C Chronicles.”

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