Why Rats Rule Cities
Pet Rats vs. Wild Rodents
For anyone who has owned a furry little rat friend, you know they can be super affectionate, silly and fun. They are very social creatures and enjoy interacting with their owners and playing with toys. But these domesticated little guys are a far cry from their wild cousins. While your Remy rat may enjoy watching Ratatouille with you, wild Rattigan is roaming the dirty streets, eating garbage and potentially spreading terrible diseases.
Throughout history, man has struggled with the destructive forces of rodents. They can eat crops, devastate local agriculture, steal and consume your food, gnaw through walls in your home, significantly damage property and even start fires by chewing through electrical wires in homes.
They are also carriers of disease and are infamous for the spread of the bubonic plague. They also often are infected with Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome, Lassa Fever, Lymphocytic Chorio-meningitis, and Salmonellosis. These rodents are notorious for climbing around in garbage and slinking through sewers… eventually finding their way into your home. As they scurry through your rooms, around your furniture and on your countertops, defecating and leaving behind remnants of urine and saliva as they do, they are contaminating everything they touch and putting you and your family at risk of some seriously detrimental diseases.
A Rat’s Playground
The two most common city rats are the Roof Rat (rattus rattus) and the Norway rat (rattus noevegicus). In areas that are highly populated with these rodents, there can even be a higher population of rats than people in a given location. What makes this extra startling is how adept they are at navigating city life.
Rats are like little acrobats – they can scale high brick walls, balance on thin wires to travel from building to building, and have extremely powerful teeth and jaws, allowing them to gnaw their way into virtually anything. This means that practically nowhere is completely safe from these pests in a city.
There’s a reason scientists study rats going through mazes and solving puzzles, they are very intelligent creatures and can easily learn from experience. This is part of the reason rats survive so well in urban settings – they’ve learned where to find food, what to avoid, and how people commonly try to dispose of them so they can avoid those dangerous situations. They also reproduce very quickly.
Female rats can produce up to 12 pups within 8 weeks, and rats reach sexual maturity rather quickly, so those new pups can begin reproducing as well within 5 weeks of their birth. As such, rats are able to easily repopulate when faced with relocation efforts or DIY eradication techniques. The only really sure-fire way to keep rats away is through sanitation, sealing off any and all access to food or food waste, and keeping any cracks or hole in homes/buildings sealed so rodents cannot enter.
With this in mind, some cities, such as New York, are taking new precautions to help eliminate rat populations within their city be focusing on preventative measures. This preventative measure attacks the food source for the rats, eliminating the garbage that attracts the rodents. On average, New York city produces 33 million tons of trash, and this trash is left out, available to the rats. In response to this the city has designed a new trash receptacle that will operate similar to mailboxes, effectively sealing off the trash once it is placed into the can. We can only hope that this helps to truly deter the little rodent rulers of the city.
Polan, S. and Sharma, U. (2018) Why Cities Can’t Get Rid of Rats, YouTube. Science Insider. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cD6eZrrcp1Y (Accessed: July 2020).