Posted on: July 21, 2020 at 6:54 pm

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives. It has closed businesses, schools, and restaurants, cancelled concerts and other large events, caused millions of people to lose their jobs, and thousands to lose their lives.

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Humans, however, are not the only ones feeling the effects of widespread lockdowns. Animals’ lives have also been altered by the pandemic, particularly city-dwelling creature like rats.

Since coronavirus lockdowns began, there have been an increasing number of rat sightings in people’s neighbourhoods, yards, and homes, but these aren’t any ordinary rodents. These are hungry, desperate, cannibal rats- and they are getting more and more aggressive.

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Rats on the Hunt

When the majority of the population was forced to stay in their homes for several weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic, city streets all over the world went quiet. Without the swarms of commuter traffic or the bustle of restaurants, there was something else missing from the streets: garbage.

For humans, that seems like a great thing. For rats, that spells disaster. The city-dwelling rodents rely on the leftover scraps of food discarded by humans and the garbage that piles up in the back alleys of restaurants or gets tossed into the gutter as their main food source. 

Without it, they’ve become desperate… and aggressive.

The situation has become so extreme, in fact, that the CDC has issued a warning stating that people may notice “unusual or aggressive rodent behaviour”. Their statement also says:

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“Jurisdictions have closed or limited service at restaurants and other commercial establishments to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Rodents rely on the food and waste generated by these establishments,” [1].

The statement goes on to address the closures that have led to a decrease in the food that’s available for rodents, particularly in dense commercial areas, and that some communities have noticed an increase in rodent activity as they search for different food sources. 

These COVID-19-era rats are now finding their way into homes through drainage systems and sometimes crawling up through peoples’ toilets [2].

Mike Fynn owns a pest control company in the UK, and has been experiencing a much higher call volume since the pandemic began. Many of the companies that his business services are made up of homes that were built in the fifties and sixties, which are now beginning to deteriorate slightly. This often gives rats an opportunity to work their way into the houses.

“For example, if someone has planted a tree in the garden and the roots have now caused a crack in the pipes,” he explains. “If there is a fault in the structure of your home then they may well head into your home. If there is a break in the sewer system they can get in your drains. Rats can also dig two feet a day.” [2]

New York City, a place known for their famously massive rats, is having similar problems. 

“A restaurant all of a sudden closes now, which has happened by the thousands in not just New York City but coast to coast and around the world, and those rats that were living by that restaurant, someplace nearby, and perhaps for decades having generations of rats that depended on that restaurant food, well, life is no longer working for them, and they only have a couple of choices,” said urban rodentologist Bobby Corrigan [3].

Now, normally nocturnal rats are coming out during the day to find food. Jim Fredericks, of the National Pest Management Association, says that for this reason, people are noticing them more.

“Rats carry disease and they’re very unsightly, so it’s a big thing. People are wanting to take steps to keep rats away from their homes.” [3]

Other cities across the country have begun experiencing aggressive rodent problems, including Chicago and New Orleans. Washington, D.C. has had nearly five hundred rodent-related calls in the last thirty days [3].

Read: Alabama Teens Are Throwing Coronavirus Parties with Cash Rewards for the First to Get Infected

Cannibal Rats

Not only are rats finding their way into our homes in search of food, they’ve also turned on each other. Steve Belmain, a professor of ecology at the Natural Resources Institute in Kent, and the UK’s leading rat academic, is not surprised that rats have turned to cannibalism, and says that the behaviour is actually common among mammals in extreme conditions.

“Mothers will eat their young in the hope of one day being able to reproduce again,” he says. “If there’s not enough food to take care of herself, she won’t kill herself looking after them.” [4]

Corrigan says that just like you and I, when they’re extremely hungry they’re not going to behave the way they usually do- they’re going to act very badly.

“So these rats are fighting with one another, now the adults are killing the young in the nest and cannibalizing the pups.” [3]

Prevention Measures are being Put in Place

Officials in New Orleans are now preparing aggressive pest control measures. 

“These rats are hungry, so we want them to eat our bait,” said Claudia Riegel, director of the New Orleans Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board [5].

Despite shutdowns and closures of many businesses, the mayor of Washington, D.C., has designated pest control workers as essential. There, aggressive pest controls measures had been put in place even before the pandemic, which included the use of feral cats [5].

To avoid having rats invade your home, the CDC recommends sealing up access to homes and businesses, removing debris and heavy vegetation from your property, keeping garbage in tightly covered bins, and removing pet and bird food from your yard [3].

“Rats are designed to smell molecules of anything that’s food-related,” Corrigan said. “They follow those food molecules like heat-seeking missiles — and eventually you know they end up where those molecules are originating.” [5]

Keep Reading: How to Keep Mice and Other Rodents Out of Your Home, Garage, and Camper

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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