In the bustling heart of New York City, a story unfolds under the radar, far from the towering skyscrapers and the ceaseless energy of urban life. This city, renowned for its dreams and ambitions, becomes a nightly feast for a population often overlooked.
Imagine a city with over 25,000 eateries and countless home cooks, transforming it into a vast, unintentional banquet each night.
As the sun sets and the streets grow quiet, a different world comes alive. This isn’t about the glamorous nightlife or the famous culinary wonders of New York; it’s a tale about the city’s hidden dwellers, thriving in the human shadow: the rats.
Their story is one of survival, adaptation, and an unexpected parallel to our own urban existence.
The Life of an Urban Rodentologist
Bobby Corrigan ¹, a New Yorker through and through, loves the city’s pepperoni slices and dazzling lights. But his passion extends beyond typical city delights to its most notorious inhabitants: rats.
Starting as an exterminator working in the sewers, Bobby’s fascination with these creatures led him to become a renowned Urban Rodentologist.
By day, he studies these animals, and by night, he pens poetry on the streets, capturing the essence of the city and its less-celebrated residents.
Admiration & Aversion
Are rats the scourge of the city, as many believe?
Bobby admires their resilience and adaptability but acknowledges the darker side of their existence. Rats carry diseases.
Their presence in the city is a complex issue of coexistence and conflict as they navigate the urban jungle, leaving trails of disease in their wake.
A study ² spanning 55 European countries from 1995–2016 found rats carrying 53 different infectious agents, all with zoonotic potential. This includes bacteria like virulent E. coli and pathogenic Leptospira, helminths such as Hymenolepis, and protozoa like Toxoplasma gondii.
The study underscores the need for improved surveillance and highlights the significant public health implications of rat-borne diseases, emphasizing urban rodent management’s complex and pressing nature.
A Rat Safari
A staggering statistic from MMPC reveals that New York City now harbors as many as 3 million rats ⁴, a 50% surge since 2010, showcasing their explosive population growth.
These rodents ingeniously burrow beneath sidewalks and venture into trees for bird nests, demonstrating their remarkable adaptability and predatory instincts.
With an estimated 59,384 ³ rat-infested lots providing ample food and shelter, the city becomes an ideal habitat, cementing its status as a rat’s paradise and a testament to their enduring survival skills.
Despite efforts to control it, this thriving population underscores the resilience and persistent challenge rats pose in urban environments.
Tracing the Roots
One must journey through history to truly grasp New York’s rat population. Biologist Jason Munshi-South has illuminated that the brown rat, or Rattus norvegicus, despite its name, originated in Mongolia, not Norway ⁵.
Drawn to human settlements by agriculture, these rats transitioned from forests to farms, eventually boarding British ships in the 1850s ⁶ bound for New York. Munshi-South’s research, funded by the National Science Foundation, reveals that New York’s rats can be traced back to this initial wave, with little genetic mixing since.
This suggests a fiercely territorial nature, with established colonies aggressively repelling newcomers.
Such findings underscore the rats’ adaptability and the inadvertent havens humans have created in urban sprawls like New York.
The War on Rats
Despite a 3.5 ⁷ million-dollar annual effort with poisons, traps, and trained dogs, the battle against rats continues.
The Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use (CRRU) UK study reveals that 73.7% ⁹ of Norway rats exhibit anticoagulant rodenticide resistance ¹⁰.
This resistance is not just a local issue but a widespread concern, with hybrid resistance found in samples indicating a complex battle ahead.
As rats adapt to our countermeasures, the need for innovative and sustainable solutions becomes more pressing.
From Negative to Positive: Rat Tourism?
In this city of bright lights and soaring dreams, a new kind of tourism is emerging, one that capitalizes on New York’s most unassuming inhabitants: its rats.
As the number of rat sightings doubled ⁸ last year, an unusual trend has taken hold, transforming the city’s rodent issue into a bizarre attraction. Enter the world of ‘rat tours,’ where intrepid visitors and curious locals flock to infested spots to witness the scurrying of these urban survivors.
Guides like Kenny Bollwerk, who found fame through his TikTok ¹¹ videos showcasing New York’s rat populations, are leading this unconventional charge. Bollwerk, originally from Missouri, inadvertently became a rodent guide when a live stream of rats at a construction site in Sunnyside, Queens, drew over 10,000 viewers.
What started as an effort to alert the city to the rodent problem turned into a rallying point for rat enthusiasts. Now, Bollwerk spends several nights a week filming rats, attracting a diverse group of followers, from business owners to families, from all over North America.
This new trend isn’t just about the thrill of the chase; it’s raising awareness about the neighborhoods besieged by rodents and bringing people together in the most unexpected ways.
The city’s response has been proactive, with the appointment of a ‘rat czar’ ¹² and the implementation of ‘rat mitigation zones.’ These efforts, along with stricter regulations for waste disposal, are part of a broader strategy to reclaim the streets from the clutches of the rat population.
Yet, as the city battles to control its rodent residents, the fascination with these creatures continues to grow, adding an odd yet compelling chapter to New York’s storied history.
The Rat Paradox
Humans and rats share a multifaceted bond. Despite our aversion to them due to their association with filth and disease, rats are invaluable to medical research ¹³.
They’ve been pivotal in drug and treatment testing, significantly enhancing human health and longevity. This intricate relationship is highlighted by their anatomical and physiological similarities to humans, making them ideal models for biomedical research.
With about 95% ¹⁴ of their genes shared with us, they offer insights into human diseases and are crucial in pre-clinical trials.
Both as a pest and a medical ally, this dual role of rats epitomizes the complex interplay of coexistence and conflict in our urban existence.
As the city continues to evolve, so will its relationship with rats.
Efforts to control their populations will persist, but rats will remain a part of New York’s landscape as long as the city provides food and shelter.
This article was published and syndicated by Viral Chatter.
Martha A. Lavallie
Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.