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Rats and mice are known as commensal rodents. The word commensal means "sharing one's table". This is an appropriate term because rats and mice have been "sharing" people's food and shelter for many years. In addition, the word rodent means "to gnaw".
Like all rodents, rats and mice possess a single pair of chisel-like incisor teeth that grow continuously throughout their lives. These incisors are kept filed and sharp primarily by the rodents grinding the incisors against one another, and secondarily by the rodents constantly gnawing on various objects.
There are three species of commensal rodents that are of most concern to humans. These are the roof rat, Norway rat, and the house mouse. Rodents have been responsible for the spread of many diseases to people and domestic animals.
Today, however, because of sanitation, effective drugs, and rodent control programs, the disease threat from rodents is not as significant as it once was. Rodents cause the spread of disease by carrying them into homes and businesses because of their living and traveling through sewers and garbage areas. Many of these diseases include but are not limited to plague, murine typhus, rickettsialpox, salmonellosis, rat-bite fever, and weil's disease.
The house mouse is small and produces up to 8 litters per year with 4-7 offspring per litter. They have a small, slender body. The ears are large, and the tail is as long as the head and body together. The fur is usually dark gray on the back and light gray on the belly - but many color variations are possible.
The roof rat produces 4-6 litters per year with 4-8 offspring per litter. Their fur is grayish-black to solid black, and the belly varies from white to all gray; the snout is pointed and the ears are large; the tail is long and reaches the snout when pulled over the body.
The Norway rat is also known as the wharf rat. They produce 4-7 litters per year with 8-12 offspring per litter. They have a stocky body and course fur that ranges from reddish to grayish-brown with white underparts. The nose is blunt and the ears are small. The tail is scaly, semi-naked, and short.