Yet another unintended consequence of social distancing I’m not looking forward to: armies of rats invading and streets and even, possibly, our homes. Trust that it gives me no pleasure to inform you of this from the relative security of a first-floor apartment with sizable gaps beneath the doors.
NBC News reported on Monday that rats — like so many animals whose horizons have long been circumscribed by human social activity — will soon be seeking out alternative lifestyles. In cities, rats tend to congregate around restaurants, filching food and generally keeping out of sight. The fact of those businesses shuttering could be cataclysmic for rats, as could the overall decrease in urban trash from littering and overflowing public trash cans. Some experts say rats will resort to cannibalism, rat battles, and infanticide.
Urban rodentologist Bobby Corrigan told NBC News that the disappearance of restaurant food will usher in situations “just like we’ve seen in the history of mankind, where people try to take over lands and they come in with militaries and armies and fight to the death, literally, for who’s going to conquer the land. And that’s what happens with rats.” Corrigan continued, “A new ‘army’ of rats comes in, and whichever army has the strongest rats is going to conquer.” According to Corrigan, rats are “officially associated with about 55 different pathogens” (they are not known to carry COVID-19, however).
The phenomenon is already afoot in New Orleans, where, shortly after social-distancing measures were imposed last month, a video of rats scurrying through the streets looking for food went viral. The city’s mayor, LaToya Cantrell, said at a press conference last month, “What we have seen is these practices are driving our rodents crazy. And what rodents do, they will find food, and they will find water. That puts our street homeless in dire, dire straits.”
Some cities are planning drastic measures to combat the resurgent vermin populations. Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser designated pest-control workers as essential. Claudia Riegel, director of the New Orleans Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board told the Times-Picayune that the city is “going to put a lot of pressure [on the rats] for at least the next month.” Corrigan told the BBC that seeing more rats around isn’t a surefire sign they’ll appear in your home; cities just need to be taking preventative measures now. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, a formidable hater of rats, better be on that tip ASAP.