Humans aren’t the only ones hankering for the days they could dine out at their cities’ restaurants: Some rats that miss feasting on the scraps are becoming increasingly brazen to find new food sources, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Thursday.
Amid stay-home restrictions set across the country to battle the spread of the novel coronavirus, many restaurants and cafes are closed or limited to takeout and delivery, and with the reduced sales, the restaurants’ trash bins are no longer overflowing with scrumptious leftovers hoards of rodents subsisted on. Finding slimmer pickings than they used to, cities’ critters are more aggressive, prompting CDC to issue guidance on how to deter them.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been increased reports of rat cannibalism and infanticide in New York, as well as more rat complaints in residential areas — including in Chicago — as humans produce more food waste at home. Roving rat armies, including one caught on camera scavenging New Orleans’ empty streets, are concerning to the CDC, which says rodents can carry disease.
The CDC advises home and business owners to cover garbage cans, put bird and pet food out of reach and seal small holes rodents could access in buildings. If people follow established cleaning guidelines, they can avoid exposure to rodent-borne diseases, according to the agency.
“Some jurisdictions have reported an increase in rodent activity as rodents search for new sources of food,” the CDC said. “Environmental health and rodent control programs may see an increase in service requests related to rodents and reports of unusual or aggressive rodent behavior.”
In cities trying to combat rodent issues, like the District of Columbia, pest control workers are classified as essential. The District has had more than 800 calls regarding rodents in the past month, according to city 311 data.
Rats can transmit food-borne illnesses such as salmonella, and their urine can also worsen allergies and asthma, especially in children, Jim Fredericks, chief entomologist at the National Pest Management Association, previously told The Post.
Rats pose an additional threat to those working from home: devouring cars. Rats gnawing at car engines and tires has caused fires, cost car owners fortunes and goaded officials to seek DIY solutions.
Urban rodentologist Bobby Corrigan foresaw increased reports of aggressive rodents when the pandemic began. He said with restaurants closing, rats would need to adapt to find new food sources. In late March, he put out a call to other pest experts like him to share what they find surveying their area.
Corrigan told The Post that a pest expert sent him a photo after a gruesome rat battle in Queens, New York: A nest of rats had left to scrounge for food at their usual city block of restaurants but turned on each other when they couldn’t find enough scraps, Corrigan believes. A pile of rat limbs on the sidewalk was all that remained.
“Many of these rats in our cities depend on their nightly food, which is the restaurants and hotels and bars and doughnut shops and everything that we consume on the go,” said Corrigan.
Corrigan said rats are “opportunistic foragers,” so as many rats’ reliable sources of food have vanished, the rodents will seek new menu options. To keep rats from dining at your home, he advises following CDC guidance, securing food properly so rats can’t get to it, adding that he recommends people avoid inhumane traps or poison.
“Deny them the opportunity, and you’ll never even know they’ve visited your property,” he said.