Self-segregation is the only reason that rats and humans have been able to co-exist in this great city of ours. With certain exceptions, people tend to the surface world, while rats rule the subway tunnels. It works well for both of us. But what happens when the subway tunnels fill with water, as they did yesterday? Horrible things, according to Rick Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Milbrook, N.Y:
"Rats are incredibly good swimmers," said Ostfeld. "And they can climb."
In other words, Sandy is unlikely to knock off the resilient rodents, but rather displace them.
According to Ostfeld, this could result in increased risk of infectious diseases carried by urban rats, including leptospirosis, hantavirus, typhus, salmonella, and even the plague.
The situation may be more of a mixed bag than Ostfeld lets on, however. On Twitter, Bora Zivkovic, an editor at Scientific American online, relayed some information he learned recently in the book Rats:
NYC rat population enormous. Dominant rats deeper, may not be able to swim out. Submissive rats on surface (even in daylight), may escape.— Bora Zivkovic (@BoraZ) October 30, 2012
Tons of bloated rat carcasses floated ashore after hurricane Isaak. And those did not even have to swim upwards through pipes, sewers.— Bora Zivkovic (@BoraZ) October 30, 2012
Rats are great swimmers in the lab. And calm water. Not so much through rushing water, through pipes, upwards. Many will drown.— Bora Zivkovic (@BoraZ) October 30, 2012
The author of the book (and New York contributor) Robert Sullivan seems to concur with the "some will drown, some won't" theory:
@themadbrand Both!— Robert Sullivan (@RESullivanJr) October 30, 2012
So, if we're understanding this correctly, New York City may experience an influx of "submissive rats," which might not be so bad after all. We'll just be like, "Hey, rats, get me a soda," and they'll do it. This could be great.