A Look at the History, Life and Dangers of the Cotton Rat

Using the word cotton as an adjective has a tendency to make something more appealing. Cotton represents softness and whites… it might almost be said to represent goodness and light. The reality is that some of things that the word cotton is attached to as a descriptive are problematic and even dangerous. The cotton rat is one such example.

Description of the Cotton Rat

The technical name of the cotton rat is Sigmodon hispidus. The body of the adult cotton rat typically is between 5 and 8 inches. In addition, the rodent has a tail that is usually between 3 and 6.5 inches in length.

As will be discussed more fully in a moment, the moniker “cotton rat” has nothing to do with the animal’s appearance. A cotton rat has gray hair on its back, with black hairs mixed in here and there. The underside of the cotton rat is light in color, but not necessarily white. The hair on a cotton rat are not soft; rather, cotton rat hair is coarse.

The ears of a cotton rat are nearly completely hidden by the hair. The tails on these rats are bare, having no hair whatsoever.

Where Does the Name “Cotton Rat” Come From?

With an explanation of what a cotton rat looks like, you understandably may be perplexed as to where the name comes from. Historically, cotton rats primarily were agricultural pests. These rats were capable of causing extensive damage to row crops – including cotton. Cotton rats were particularly a plague upon cotton plantations in years gone by (and remain a problem on cotton farms to this very day). These rats would pilfer significant amounts of cotton from growing crops and use it to build comfortable nests. A significant rat infestation would end up taking out a considerable amount of a cotton crop.

Cotton Rat Infestations in the 21st Century

Agricultural communities remain primary stomping (scurrying) grounds for cotton rats. With that said, if you are a Southern Californian, you must remember that significant swaths of land in the counties that make up this part of the state were once dedicated farmland. Thus, while many farms have disappeared and given way to housing developments, cotton rats have not vanished. Rather, they have become issues from time to time in some communities in Southern California.

Telltale Signs of Cotton Rats

As is the case with all types of rats, there are some telltale signs that can alert you to the present of cotton rats on your property. Cotton rats are more apt than many other types of rats to disturb your gardens. When foraging among the flowers and vegetables, cotton rats are likely to leave droppings behind. These feces represent another sign that you have a rat infestation.

You will also find droppings at other locations around your property, particularly if cotton rats have taken refuge somewhere in your residence or in an outbuilding on your property.

Unlike many other types of rat droppings, cotton rat feces very well may be yellowish or greenish in color. This is a result of the fact that they may be munching on items you have growing about your property, including grass.

In addition, cotton rats are likely to chew on grass and pile it up to cover where they have defecated. Thus, if you do see little piles of grass about your property, you may have been provided a sign that cotton rats are on the premises. In addition, you are very likely to find cotton rat droppings under these grassy mounds. 

Evidence of gnawing is another indication of rodent infestation. If cotton rats take up nesting somewhere in your home, you may hear scratching and occasional squealing after the sun begins to set and into the night. Generally, cotton rats are nocturnal.

Protecting Against Cotton Rats

There are some essential strategies that you can employ to protect against cotton rat infestation. First, do not keep bowls of pet food set about (particularly out of doors) when your dog or cat are not eating. Second, keep grass and other vegetation near your residence and any outbuildings consistently cut as short as possible. In the alternative, you might want to eliminate any vegetation near buildings on your premises all together. Consider substituting vegetation for a roughly 30” gravel perimeter around your home and any other buildings on your property.

Hazards to Humans of Cotton Rat Droppings

Cotton rat droppings can prove highly hazardous to the health of human beings. These feces can contain pathogens responsible for causing a number of different diseases. These include:

In addition to cotton mouse droppings, carcasses of these rodents can also harbor the pathogens that cause these diseases.

Because of the true health risks associated with contact with cotton rat droppings, professional assistance in eliminating these biohazards is a recommended course. By engaging a rat droppings cleanup specialist, the elimination of this waste is undertaken in a safe and comprehensive manner. The area contaminated by cotton rate droppings is restored to a safe condition.