As the outside temperatures get colder and the inside furnaces crank up, mice, rats and squirrels consider it an open invitation to move in.

“It’s that time of year as things get cold, [rodents] are looking for ways to get inside,” said Mike Peaslee, technical director with Modern Pest Control in Brunswick.

Peaslee has 40 years of experience dealing with the small furry pests and said people are often amazed at the how small an entrance they need to get into a home.

“Mice can get into a hole the size of a pencil,” he said.

Hard to believe, but true, according to Griffin Dill, integrated pest management official with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

“About a quarter of an inch opening is all it takes for a mouse and rats — just need a half inch,” Dill said. “That can make it tricky if you are taking measures to keep them out so it can be a real challenge.”

This time of year, Dill said, the rodents are basically looking for warmth and a steady diet.

“Some are looking for a warm, protected area to over winter and others are looking for a food source,” Dill said. “Those are the two main drivers that will attract [rodents] into a home.”

As such, Dill said the important takeaway in preventing the mice and rats from getting into a home is strict attention to sanitation.

“Clean up garbage and food materials so they are not available for rodents,” he said. “You should also go around your house and look for any and all small cracks and crevices that they can use to get in.”

That inspection should be all inclusive, from the basement to the attic.

“It can be a real challenge,” Dill said.

The good news, Peaslee said, is sealing up those cracks not only prevents the rodents from getting into a home, it also helps keep cold drafts out.

Should rodents gain access into a home, the situation can quickly escalate from a minor annoyance to serious threats to human health.

“Mice, squirrels and rats are rodents [and] the word ‘rodent’ comes from the latin ‘rodre’ meaning ‘to gnaw,’” Peaslee said. “They like to gnaw [and] mice especially go after wires that are long and cylinder shaped like the natural things they gnaw on like grass.”

With their single pair of continuously growing incisors in the upper and lower jaws, rodents can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time.

“Gnawing on wires can in extreme cases lead to fires,” Peaslee said. “With squirrels, they will chew holes to get in and out and can do substantial damage to a home.”

Rodents, according to Dill, are also effective at transmitting diseases, viral infections and bacteria.

“In addition to just being a nuisance, they can transmit diseases in droppings and urine,” he said. “It does not take a lot of mice or rats to cause a significant health situation so it is important to take care of any rodent issues quickly.”

Given time, secondary infestations are also a byproduct of rodents in the house, Peaslee said.

“If rodents find food and are storing it in a house, once those rodents are exterminated that food remains,” he said. “Insects could be attracted to that food supply, so the sooner you deal with any rodent issues, the less likely you are to have that problem.”

If rodents have managed to gain access into a home, Dill said it is best to take a strategic approach.

“You might hear them in the walls or see their droppings or find food missing,” he said. “Look for areas where they are most active if you are going to set traps because mice and rats are pretty smart and they won’t simply run over to the bait on a trap.”

But if the central area of infestation can be found, Dill said placing traps there can be successful.

Rodents are also good communicators, Peaslee said, using pheromones to tell others that they have found a place with good living conditions and plenty of food.

“If you don’t get rid of them early on, you can get a real processional of them coming in,” he said. “If it gets bad enough, you may want to call in professionals and we use everything from snap traps to multi-catch traps with organic bait.”

Homeowners can also bring a cat on the scene, but Dill said felines as rodent controllers are often overrated.

“It certainly does not hurt to have one around, but they are not necessarily the most effective at rodent control,” he said. “I have one and so do my family members and there are a number of times [the cats] are not interested in chasing mice.”

Unless a cat has grown up having to hunt for a living, Dill said it’s a better idea to explore other rodent control options.

“If the cat is well-fed, he’s not interested in working for his dinner,” he said.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.