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Rats in New York City

Updated on June 5, 2017
Bridget F profile image

Bridget is a life-long writer, researcher, cat-lover, yogi and traveler. She is also a social worker and voracious reader.

The Norwegian Rat

  • The majority of the rats in NYC are of the Norwegian Rat (rattus norvegicus) species, also known as the "brown rat."
  • They are large, brown and everywhere! The average weight of the adult rat is about one to two pounds and current estimates say that there are about two million of these rats in NYC at any given time! This estimate was made in a 2014 study by Jonathan Auerbach, reported in Significance magazine. Urban legends say that there are more rats than people in the city, but this study showed that estimate is a bit high.
  • In the early 1900s, black rats co-existed with these brown rats, but the brown rats preyed on the black rats and they were soon nearly eradicated. These days, it's difficult to find a black rat in NYC.
  • The skull of the rat is not plated together, so it can squeeze itself through very small openings.
  • Rats create nests underground or within soft material, often sleeping together within small groupings in each nest. Trash and restaurant waste within the city provides perfect sleeping and eating grounds, all in one. Rats also only need about an ounce of food per day, which is easy to come by in such a busy place.
  • They are creative when it comes to getting inside! Rats are able to climb up through toilet pipes and into a toilet, from which they can climb out and into the rest of the building! Yikes!

Pizza Rat- A Famous NYC Rat!

Rats and Disease in NYC

  • The most common diseases that city rats give to humans are E. coli, Clostridium difficile (C. diff,) and Salmonella. Each of these can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and general body aches/feeling unwell and are spread through human contact with rat feces, rat urine or rat saliva.
  • Rat bites are less common, but can cause tetanus or rat bite fever (which can be fatal.) Seek immediate medical care if you are bitten by a rat!
  • Babies are the most frequent victims of rat bites in New York City, especially when left with food or a bottle in a crib.
  • The average rat has at least four fleas, which may bite humans.
  • Columbia University's School of Public Health completed a study in 2014 which showed that rats carry bacteria which can cause bubonic plague, typhus and spotted fever. Rats also carry viruses which are transmittable to humans.

New Solutions to the Rat Problem

  • NYC has a half-day program called Rat Academy, where residents come to learn to identify rat infestations and what to do about them.
  • The NYC Health Department will inspect private and public properties for rats, and will order the property owner to take care of the problem within five days or face a fine. The Health Department is aware that there is no current complete fix to the rat problem, but will respond to infestations as they occur.
  • NYC rodent complaints can be made by calling 3-1-1.
  • The Mayor's office has its own Rodent Task Force.
  • The city began a pilot program in 2013 to sterilize the rats. ContraPest is a substance which causes early menopause in rats, and is being tested in NYC's subways.
  • The Ryder’s Alley Trencher-fed Society is a group of dog owners whose dogs (mainly terriers) are trained to kill rats. They respond to calls with their dogs (eight at at time) and do not accept any money; they simply enjoy watching their dogs happily utilizing their hunting instincts.
  • At this point, there seems to be no way to completely eliminate the rat problem in New York City. Rats need so little food and it is so easy to find, with so much litter and food waste around, that they thrive easily in the area. But researchers continue to work on ways to decrease the number of rats overtaking New York City.

NYC- The Beautiful Home to Millions of Rats

Source List: For More Information,8599,1866594,00.html


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    • Bridget F profile image

      Bridget F 11 months ago from USA

      FlourishAnyway, thank you!! I thought that the toilet part was extra creepy as well!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 11 months ago from USA

      This was spine tingling! From the diseases to the thought that they could climb through the hotel toilet and bite you on the keister, visitors as well as residents will find this article fascinating. I like that they're looking at new alternatives.