A better mousetrap

Could I avoid the inevitable application of brute force?

When I saw the first one through the window on my way out to the garage, clambering gingerly over my ancient camo Chuck Taylors, I thought it was cute.

I couldn’t tell if it was a mouse or a baby rat but, at that size and location, it really didn’t matter to me all that much.

For anyone in the Tampa Bay area with fruit trees or a house built before the ’80s, rats are a familiar sight. Like most of my friends who own property, I long ago resigned myself to seeing them race along the top of the privacy fence, and occasionally to hearing one scratch around the crawlspace under the house. Really, what am I going to do about it? I’ve strung the chicken wire across the openings. I’ve kept the yard free of brush piles and debris. It doesn’t matter; if the rats want your oranges or your birdseed or your shade, they’re going to find a way.

That’s kind of what rats do.

Plus, I’ve never really been able to think of them as particularly nasty. I mean, they’re just squirrels with a shitty sense of decorum. And look at the pets we share our beds with; they may seem domesticated and all, but they turn into devious evil masterminds whenever the possibility of noshing on an illicit repast of cat turd arises.

So seeing one cute little furry critter poking around our wooden garage — a building with all the structural integrity of a used paper towel — didn’t bother me. I even showed Rebecca, who immediately declared it a mouse and not, you know, the other thing.

Then I started to see that one cute little furry critter every time I headed for the garage.

And then I started to see two or three of that cute little furry critter. At once. Often. That’s when they went from being cute little furry critters to being a potential pain in the ass. I poked around and found a shredded bag of dog food samples I’d put out there to give away. Of course, I threw the ruined bag away and cleaned up the garage.

And of course, the rodents knew where they could find more dog food.

They’re not so cute when they’re skittering across your kitchen floor.

Becky was adamant that no “mice” were to be harmed over the course of Operation Prove You’re Smarter Than Vermin. I went out and bought a couple of the only humane traps available at the local big box home improvement center. I also bought a bunch of glue traps and traditional neck-snappers, because I’m American, and will only try the warm-and-fuzzy approach for so long before I resort to wildly excessive brute force.

After a few days of seeing little furballs streak between the entertainment center and the sofa, and seeing the humane trap, and not seeing any little furballs in the humane trap, I was ready to escalate. Before I did, however, I took to the net to research DIY humane traps — and came across some seriously laughable homespun contraptions. But I was desperate to either catch some “mice” or prove to my wife that they couldn’t be taken alive and get her to sign off on lethal action, so I picked the homemade trap that seemed the easiest and cheapest to make. It entailed, I kid you not:

One five-gallon bucket.

One length of coat-hanger wire, long enough to lay across the mouth of the bucket.

One beer can.

And peanut butter.

I popped a hole in the bottom of the beer can, ran the wire through the can, smeared a little peanut butter on the can, and suspended the can over the mouth of the bucket, then put the whole thing in the garage next to some equipment our rodent friends could climb. In theory, the mouse or rat would jump to the can to get the peanut butter, and the can would swivel on the wire, dropping the freeloader into the bucket.

In practice… it worked like a freakin’ charm. Each morning and evening, I would check the bucket, and find a frightened but unharmed little visitor I could release a prudent distance from the house. I set up a second bucket-trap in the house; it didn’t work as well, but I suspect that’s because the cats have the run of the house at night, and the “mice” didn’t have the luxury of fully investigating the trap and working up the nerve to make a leap for the peanut butter.

At this point, the house seems to be free of tiny intruders, and I feel pretty good about being able to get it that way without killing a bunch of animals.

So let that be a lesson: Always try any crazy and/or stupid-looking solution to your problem that you find on the Internet.*

(*That doesn’t involve fire or escorts coming to your home. Otherwise, knock yourself out!)


Since 1988, CL Tampa Bay has served as the free, independent voice of Tampa Bay, and we want to keep it that way.

Becoming a CL Tampa Bay Supporter for as little as $5 a month allows us to continue offering readers access to our coverage of local news, food, nightlife, events, and culture with no paywalls.

Join today because you love us, too.

Scroll to read more Tampa Bay News articles

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.