Some people see rats as pests on the streets, while others think of them as cute (kind of like Remy in Ratatouille). But most people agree that the rat situation in New York City is becoming a major problem.
New York City is infested with rats. When asked why the situation has gotten so bad, some experts have suggested that the urban development and gentrification of certain areas have disrupted rat habitats. Others believe that we’re losing ground to their natural enemies, like hawks, coyotes, and owls, due to the spread of civilization.
There are anywhere from around 2 million to 8 million rats in New York City at any given time. With numbers like those, they are starting to leave the sewers and break into people’s homes.
The most common type of rat found in New York City is the brown rat (also known as the Norway rat), which has colonized much of the city. As you’d imagine, brown rats are typically brown or gray in color with a lighter-colored belly and grow to 11-12 inches long (including their tails) on average.
Less common are black rats (also known as roof rats or ship rats). Black rats were introduced into New York from Europe during colonial times. They’re shiny black with a lighter-colored belly, and their tails typically have 12-13 rings. They are smaller than brown rats and grow to about 8-9 inches long. Black rats prefer warmer climates than their brown rat counterparts, so they’re mainly found in basements and cellars or inside walls.
Some people have reported seeing rats almost 2 feet long with another ten inches in length of tail. In one case, a water main break in Brooklyn revealed a monster rat weighing about two pounds. Most rats, however, are much smaller. The average rat is between 8 and 10 inches long and weighs less than one pound.
Rats can sustain life in the harshest environments. They can eat, drink and survive using only a tiny amount of space. New York City’s rat problem can be blamed on several factors:
Garbage - Rats like the taste of waste, especially fatty foods like meat and dairy. Rats will eat anything that you leave out on your kitchen counters or leave in the trash can.
Open garbage cans - The easiest way for rats to access food is through open garbage cans. As previously mentioned, garbage cans should be kept closed at all times, preferably inside a rodent-proof enclosure like this one.
Dense population - Rats reproduce quickly, so the infestation will never die out as long as you have a steady food source and an environment conducive to breeding.
Garbage from commercial establishments - Rats can come from anywhere in your neighborhood or even from outside of it. The garbage from restaurants and other similar establishments allows rats to breed more easily and stay fed.
Public transportation - Rats can travel long distances easily by jumping onto subway tracks and crawling into the cars themselves. They like to hide in the nooks and crannies of trains and will even wait for garbage or leftovers to fall from overhead compartments, allowing them to breed more quickly.
Lack of enforcement - The city lacks the resources to prevent restaurants from discarding their garbage onto the street. The city lacks the resources needed to control the rat population properly.
Climate - New York City is a coastal area, so its climate allows rats to reproduce more quickly than they would in colder climates. As previously mentioned, brown rats can produce up to seven litters per year with 12-14 pups per litter.
Risk of disease - Rats carry dozens of diseases, including the plague, salmonella, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, and even some forms of the flu virus. Transmission of these diseases occurs through bites, feces, or saliva.
People think that this is a problem that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Rats are intelligent and curious, which can cause them to break into homes or chew through electrical wires that could pose serious hazards. Because they’re so smart, it’s nearly impossible to “exterminate” them all completely.
There are a few things you can do to help prevent rats from entering your home.
Seal all cracks and holes in your home’s exterior with caulk or wire mesh.
Rats can slip into holes that are only 1/4 of an inch in size, so it is vital to be thorough with checking for holes. Check your home’s foundation, eaves, and roofline, as well as doors, windows, and vents. Seal them properly if they are found to be compromised using materials like metal flashing, cement, or expanding foam. For larger cracks, use a steel rat-proofing strip.
Don’t give the rats any reason to want to come inside.
Make sure all of your home’s food is put away after use, especially pet food and birdseed. Make sure all of your food waste is disposed of carefully and that garbage cans are secured or kept in a garage or basement when not in use.
Keep your yard free of debris and trim any shrubbery that may provide cover for rats.
If you have a compost pile, keep it far away from your home and make sure you turn it regularly.
Set traps if you see any activity at all.
Rats can be attracted to homes by food, so if you are seeing them around the exterior of your home, it is likely that they are already inside. You can set traps to catch them, but it is important to do so carefully as rats can be aggressive when cornered. It’s best to hire a professional if you are not experienced with using these devices.
Clean up any droppings found around your home immediately.
Rats carry many diseases, including Weil’s disease (leptospirosis), rat-bite fever, salmonella, and Hantavirus.
If you see droppings or see a rat in your home, clean it up immediately. Using rubber or latex gloves, carefully put the droppings in a plastic bag, ensuring it is tightly sealed. Wash your hands thoroughly immediately afterward with soap and water.
If you live in an apartment building, report any rat activity to your landlord or management immediately.
When you encounter a rat on the street, your first instinct may be to run. Rats are fast, and they can bite. If you can’t run, your next option should be to fight them off.
Grab a newspaper or book and use it as a weapon to hit the rat on the head, then quickly swipe it away. If you are bitten, immediately wash the wound with soap and water to decrease the risk of infection.
Take a picture of the rat if you can.
If you see a lot of rats or if one is acting aggressively, call NYC311 and report it. Rat infestations are dangerous, so if you see a rat problem at a restaurant or other business, report it.
What about rat sprays?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as different rats may be more or less resistant to various sprays. Some anticoagulant rat sprays may be more effective than others. In general, though, the consensus among professionals is that a homemade pepper spray that includes a cayenne-based product will be most effective.
However, it is important to note that a rat can return to the scene of the spray and contaminate it with bacteria, so it is essential to clean up thoroughly.
The growing number of rats is a serious concern for New Yorkers, especially for those who live in homes with small children or elderly citizens. City officials are doing their best to combat the rat problem by cracking down on illegal garbage disposal and encouraging residents to take preventative measures against rats in their area. However, until public awareness of the rat problem reaches an all-time high, New Yorkers will need to remain diligent to ensure the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones.