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Summer of the Rat

Nourished by trash and rain, the rodents are living large this season. A Pied Piper tells us what to do.

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It’s a perennial New York complaint—There are more rats than ever!—but it’s never seemed more on-the-mark than this summer. The rain has driven the rodents out of the woodwork. A Queens firehouse had to be razed to stop an infestation. And the critters appear to be getting . . . bigger. “I’ve seen some that are two and a half pounds,” says Larry Adams, the Health Department’s head of extermination. “Rats are like people—some are quite obese.” Mayor Mike and company may be pledging to do more, but sanitation overtime alone won’t solve the problem. We asked ecologist Bruce Colvin, who helped reduce the rat count around Boston’s Big Dig by 90 percent, what else we can do.

How would you rid New York of rats?
People want to blame the rat for existing. They should be blaming their own behavior. Who decided to put that type of trash can on the corners, the ones with holes in them? And what about the big cracks in sidewalks that haven’t been maintained?

So what do we do?
New York needs a holistic strategy for refuse management. That includes recycling, education, and issuing tickets for putting trash out early in plastic bags and storing trash improperly in Dumpsters behind restaurants.

Why not just throw down a lot of poison?
The reproductive rate actually increases because there’s more food available for fewer rats. Within six months, you have more rats than ever.

We hear rats have sex twenty times a day. Impressive!
Males can copulate on an abundant scale. And a female can give birth every 21 days—at eight to ten pups in a litter.

Are they like us at all?
They’re excellent at sex, but only after they eat.


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