Hey Matt:

The other day I popped open the hood on my Mitsubishi Montero gas-guzzling SUV, which I park outside, and found about 6 to 8 somewhat intact snail shells. The shells weren't smashed but the animals were gone and parts of the shells were gone. Do you have any idea how they got there? By the way, my wife also had a couple in her engine.

-- Rick in Encinitas

Maybe this will take the edge off the guilt over the gas-guzzler: you're running your own little wildlife sanctuary. The wildlife in question is rats, but, hey, they're wild and they're life, so they qualify. Rats are everywhere in the county, and they'll eat pretty much anything, including garden snails. And one of the hideouts rats love is inside engine compartments. They can insinuate themselves into surprisingly small spaces. So fall asleep each night with the comforting picture of the neighborhood rats picking up an order of snails to go, then snacking in warmth and safety of your Montero.

As a public service-- completely free, you-didn't-ask-about-it facts--I'll add that when you discover something is eating the wiring and hoses in your engine (and you will�), that's also your rats. They are champion chewers, and something about electrical insulation is irresistible. Do-it-yourself rat poisons are very dangerous to cats, dogs, and other better-behaved animals, so call the county's ratbusters, the vector control office, for advice (858-694-2888). One home remedy you might try is moth balls, said to be a reliable ratproofer.

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