With the announcement of the search for a “Rat Tsar” to be hired in New York City, it begs the question – why are rats in New York City so bad right now? This tsar is asked to have the drive, determination, and killer instinct needed to fight the real enemy – New York City’s relentless rat population. Will this rat tsar make any difference? We took a look at the situation and talked to a few people that have plenty of experience with the city and the rats in it.
Why Are Rats So Bad in New York City?
We spoke to Nic Ellis, the principal entomologist for Western in the New York City area. Nic has been with Western for four years and has been incredibly involved in the rat situation in the city for the past three. When we asked him why the rats are so bad in New York City right now, his answer wasn’t so cut and dry. “That is a difficult question to answer,” he said. Following with, “The bottom line is that the biology and behavior of Norway rats – which are the familiar NYC rats – allows them to live among people and do so undetected. Their instinct to avoid predators dictates they’re often most active when less people are around. For example, we’ve observed that rats established inside a food service business will show up within 30 minutes of the last worker leaving. If the business opens early in the morning, they retreat to their hiding places right before someone opens the next day. But if it’s a bakery that opens in the middle of the night to start making bread, they can readily adapt their habits to accommodate that schedule. They will exploit the food, water, and shelter they find in a site they’ve invaded for as long as it’s available. When resources are depleted or limited to the population, they will seek those resources elsewhere. Rats are hugely driven by their stomachs and their voracious appetites. They will go 100 feet or more to find food if necessary and are known to resort to cannibalism when food sources suddenly disappear. In New York they don’t care about neighborhoods, landmarks, or zip codes. They care about getting food first, and then other things they need such as fresh drinking water. Usually, you finally discover them when you see the evidence of their foraging activity: droppings, greasy stains around openings, and damage they’re causing with their constant gnawing. But you will see them as well. If you do see one out in the open in the daytime on occasion, it doesn’t necessarily mean there are a lot of them. But if you see multiple rats active in populated areas during the daytime it could indicate the community of rats living nearby is growing, forcing them to change their normal habits.”
How Can We Deal with The Rat Problem in NYC?
The rat tsar is going to need to do more than just pest control to deal with the rats. The department of sanitation, the pest control company, and the city’s residents – especially those in a commercial setting – will all need to step up and work together. It’s not all one person’s fault. Nic noted, “Unfortunately, rodenticide bait is most effective if the rats have nothing else to eat. And with the excess trash out there, the bait has competition. So, you have to take away any other food sources for the bait to do its job. Sanitation strategies will help with that. Trapping also can help because you’re taking the rats right out of the equation. But trapping has to be done aggressively. Professional inspections are also key. Just one hole missed can ruin everything you’re trying to do to control the rats. Even if it’s in your neighbor’s business or home. Nothing will change unless everyone does what it takes and works together.” We also spoke to Regional Manager in the NYC area, John Perrone. His take was very similar to Nic’s. He said, “We are thrilled that NYC officials have started to focus on this problem, however we recognize that we all have a part to play in resolving the issue. Homeowners and businessowners can do their part by working with a licensed pest management company – leaving the DIY approach to other projects.”
As the city comes out of the quarantining time due to Covid, the rats have really made themselves at home. With less people coming and going and the businesses in the city either closed or just less inhabited, it was easy for them to take up residence. On the other hand, there was less commercial garbage (restaurants in particular were shut down for quite a while) making the rats hungrier and more aggressive. We wrote about all of this a while ago. Read it here. Keep in mind, though, what Nic had to say about this, “Rats were here before Covid, and they will be here long after. For decades – maybe centuries – they’ve been living in the city. In foundations, in subways, in sewers – just about anywhere they can get to. I’ve even seen them in great numbers in a rural New Jersey basement. New York City is high profile, so you hear about them more there. With social media and people sharing pictures, you’re just hearing about them more.”
Even though New York City is slower to come out of the Covid haze than some other cities, it’s still on its way back to something resembling normalcy. More people are out and about and businesses and restaurants that were able to survive the lockdowns are opening back up. All that is great, but it’s threatening the rats that have gotten quite comfortable and established routines in their spaces. So, while the rats seem to be multiplying quicker, they also appear to be bolder.
What Attracts Rats in NYC?
With the new “all year round” outdoor dining trend, rats can really put a damper on those areas, so restaurant owners have to be extra careful about these resourceful rodents. They are a reputation killer, an audit failer, and a disease carrier. Triple threat. Nic said, “During Covid, I’ve seen some restaurants that have constructed outdoor dining areas that the rats have decided to use as their homes. I suspect the outdoor dining areas have increased the resources available to them. I’ve also seen videos of them coming out at night and swarming trash bags. They seem to need to work less to find their food. For food-related business where Western provides the pest control, we’ve made sure to make the areas inhospitable to them. But if the business next door isn’t doing the same controlling them is potentially more difficult.” That means all businesses in New York City should have their own professional exterminator on their payroll – not just restaurants. A professional pest control company will not only help you deal with the rats (plus the flies, the cockroaches, the mosquitoes, etc.) but they will be able to provide business owners with strategies and tactics that will help them remove the attractants that draw rats to their business. Sanitation upgrades, cleaning schedules, exclusion work, and simple things like not keeping the door to the kitchen open or the dock door up are easy fixes but business owners don’t know what they don’t know, right? A professional pest control company will help identify those strategies based on the business and share them with the owner or manager. An exterminator should be a partner to a company – especially with the facility managers and cleaning crews. It all works together, but only if all the teams are willing to do so.
Garbage collection in the city is a challenge. The city is working to reform its garbage collection system and a consulting company has been hired to study and design a program for garbage containerization. Part of the problem is the shortage of parking spaces in New York City overall which makes it difficult for the large garbage trucks to get to the garbage in the first place. Also, even with many people moving out of the city recently, the population is still very large for such a small area. More garbage, more cars that need spaces, more people in general. In addition, a study and then the design of a program takes time, so what should we all do in the meantime? All industries and all people in general are going to have to step up a bit. John also said, “Since the onset of the pandemic lockdowns, we have seen a steady uptick of rat reports from prospective customers and observed increased activity around the businesses we already protect. Around summer of 2022, however, the problem seemed to truly take on a life of its own. Recently, nearly every prospective account we inspect either shows signs of rat activity or signs that rats are attempting to enter the structure.”
Finally, Ellis said, “Rats can learn, but they’re not evil masterminds. There’s no Lex Luthor of rats. They are predictable and hard wired. And even though they can adapt, their habits and behavior are almost always the same. So, rat control methods will work but it’s a team sport. Installing bait stations where there are alternate food sources is less effective than coupling station deployment with diligent trash removal. Sealing holes in your building but not in the building next door helps you solve your problem –but may not help your neighbor solve theirs. So, if everyone doesn’t work together, you are fighting an uphill battle and we all know that’s usually setting yourself up to fail.”
The good news is, the mayor hates rats, which means he is dead set on dealing with them. Let’s see if he and his tsar succeed.