Are Rats Nocturnal? What Rats Do at Night – and in the Day!


During the night, just because you’re asleep, doesn’t mean the rest of the world is. Aside from the other side of the planet being awake, other creatures use that time too. But does that include your common rat? Well, here we’re going to talk through what happens at night in a rat’s world. Sort of a night in the life of a rat!

Here’s the quick answer for you first, then we’ll go into some details…

Are Rats Nocturnal? Yes, Rats tend to be more active at night after sundown. It’s during these times that most rats will venture out to explore, exercise, feed and socialize. They choose night mainly as they’re eyesight is poor, and if you see a rat during the day then it has been disturbed, is foraging or left home.

But at what times are rats most active? It’s not just a case of the street lamps come on and the rats leave their nest. It can be more complex than that, and what about pet rats? Here’s where we can explore it a bit further…

The three active periods for animals

To understand the activities of a Rat, we should look first at the three main types of active periods for most animals during any 24 hour period:-

Diurnal

As Humans we are Diurnal, this means we’re active for most of the daylight portion of the day. This would also include animals such as Dogs, Birds, and Squirrels.

Nocturnal

Nocturnal animals are only active during the darkest part of the night. Without any light of day. Examples of these are Badgers, Hedgehogs, and Owls. This category, for the most part, includes our common brown or black rat.

Crepuscular

This type is largely active during mainly dawn and dusk times of the day when daylight could be dim – but navigable. Examples of this kind of animal could include are Dogs, Cats, and Hamster.

While pet rats are very social animals and will adapt their schedules somewhat to fit yours, they are primarily nocturnal animals and will do most of their activities at night.

However, our common rat also sometimes has a tendency to be Crepuscular, the same as cats can often be more nocturnal and badgers can sometimes be crepuscular. So it shows that none of these rules are set in stone, they are mainly used as a guide.

Are both brown and black rats nocturnal?

Yes, both brown and the larger black rats are officially nocturnal creatures. Although as mentioned, they may be active during dusk and dawn.

Why are rats nocturnal?

The main reason why rats are nocturnal is simply down to eyesight. A rats eyesight is not very good, they are genetically very short-sighted. For this reason, traveling around at night helps to level the field in terms of their potential predators.

Because of this, rats tend to follow the same (or similar) safe and easily navigable paths every night – as part of their nighttime habits.

So what are the main nighttime habits that Rats have? … What does a ‘night in the life of a rat’ consist of?

What do rats do at night? – nocturnal rat behaviors

There are a number of activities undertaken by rats, a number of reasons why they leave the nest. Here’s the list of rat nocturnal behaviors…

  • Foraging – Whether they’re an inner-city rat, or an urban rat, or maybe a rat more suited to the wilderness, the distance may be quite a way between sources of food. So they could spend a good portion of the night trying to locate food.
  • Communicating – Not something a human can hear. Rats communicate with one another using high-frequency ultrasound. Mainly used for calling out for locating other rats. Also used during the mating process, and their young will use it to stay in communication with their parents. Male rats also use scent marking to follow trails and mark areas.
  • Building nests – Maintaining and building nests are an important part of rats rituals, particularly for giving birth to young, which can happen as many as 6 times per year.
  • Socializing – When not foraging, rats can be social creatures among their own kind. They use this time for nest-building activities, exercise and even playing with other rats – if they’re a young rat.
  • Exercise – Exercise for most rats normally just involves their daily (nightly) routines of foraging and other activities mentioned, but rats do like to be active when awake, so they will wander and explore too.
  • Playing – Rats can be playful, much like your hamster’s can! Particularly juvenile rats who might play chase or play fight.
brown rat
brown rat

What if I see a rat during the day?

If you see a rat during the day – it usually means one of three things…

  • Disturbance – The nest could have potentially been disturbed, possibly by a creature or a person, or perhaps a pest control company are dealing with a rat infestation. 
  • Hunting – It could be that there’s a shortage of food in the nest, or there’s a large brood to feed that requires additional foraging for food. It could also be a learned response based on their environment.

    For example – you might see a rat running across a parking lot during the day. I’d assume this is because it’s a good time to forage for food while shoppers are around – and perhaps before car park trash cans get emptied!
  • Overpopulation – The nest area may have become so overpopulated with rats that some are forced to leave and seek shelter elsewhere.

Where to place Rat Traps

If you’re subjected to an infestation of rats, then you could call a pest control company, but if you have rat traps of your own, then you should find the trails your rat(s) are leaving with droppings and urine.

You can help locate these trails by spreading flour across a suspected area of the floor at night and see if footprints are across it in the morning.

Once you’ve located the spot, place your rat trap directly in the path of the route. This will greatly increase your chances of catching your rat.

Are pet rats nocturnal?

If you own a pet rat, then instinctively it will be nocturnal in behavior. But it is possible to adapt your pet rats waking habits more to suit your own.

This boils down to training and patience. Plus their need for foraging is not so great, so they will be able to become more flexible on sleep patterns. But remember that your Pet will need to be challenged to search out their food. So be sure to make foraging engaging for them

Resources

Why not get into the hobby of keeping a rat? It’s a popular pastime for many. Here’s a book to get you started on the path to training your pet rat.

The Complete Guide to Rat Training

But if you have an infestation of some kind and don’t want to kill them, then here’s the humane way we would recommend of catching them., this trap allows you to release them elsewhere.

Humane Rat and Mouse trap

Conclusion

Yes, Rats are nocturnal, and if you see them during daylight hours then it means something is wrong. Fair to say though that rats don’t really want to see you either, so try not to get scared if you happen to spot one during dawn or dusk. It’s unusual, but just leave it be! – and he probably can’t see you anyway!

Michael

A Certified Ecologist and an Entomologist, Michael has been interested in all aspects of Nature for many years. It's only now he's decided, along with his partner Fran, to begin documenting what he knows.

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