Help! Rats!

Posted: December 14, 2018

At the pest control department in Washington, D.C., the phones are ringing off the hook. What are the callers saying? “WE HAVE RATS!”

Andre Pittman and Gregory Cornes work for the Health Department in Washington, D.C. Their target is Rattus Norvegicus, the common Norway rat. Mr. Pittman and Mr. Cornes shovel dry ice pellets into rat burrows. These rats have moved into the lap of luxury. They live right next to the Capitol building and the White House!

“Rats adapt to everything. They can be like geniuses,” Mr. Pittman says.

Mr. Cornes and Mr. Pittman poke around. They spot holes and dirt trails that signal rat burrows. Mr. Cornes uses an instrument like an extra-long Super Soaker. The tool squirts poison into a hole. Mr. Pittman watches to see if the white powder puffs up from other holes. He shovels in dirt to block those exits. At the office building next door, the crew receives a welcome from the security guard. The guard says the rats feast at the building’s garbage cans and scurry over employees’ feet. On M Street, Mr. Cornes and Mr. Pittman discover a network of burrows in a large planter box in front of an office building. They inject poison. The bushes shake as rats come running out!

Mr. Cornes says: “We're winning.”

But are they? The pest control company Orkin ranks Washington as America’s fourth “Rattiest City.” The other rattiest spots are Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Camera footage from Washington, D.C., even shows a rat pulling a fire alarm, forcing people to evacuate an apartment building. 

Gerard Brown is the head of Washington’s rodent control department. He says a string of gentle winters has made rats able to breed constantly. The harsh winters don’t necessarily kill off the rats. Most Norway rats live only about eight months, and they stay warm by burrowing underground or chewing their way into basements. But a long freeze would choke off their food supply. Less food means fewer babies are born. And a mature female rat can give birth to one litter per month, with an average of 10 babies per litter!

The city’s human population is growing too. More than 700,000 people live there. That’s more people than live in some whole states!

“More people with more money means more restaurants, which means more garbage, which means more rat food,” Mr. Brown says. Rats are having trash-eating parties all night!

God has given officials a responsibility to keep cities clean. But what can be done about the rats? One rodent scientist has an idea: Collect trash at night instead of early in the morning. But city-dwellers probably won’t go for that. Garbage collectors don’t want to work at night. And others don’t want to hear noisy garbage trucks while they’re trying to fall asleep. “Too bad,” some experts say. “It’s that or the rats!”

Pest Control Officer Gregory Cornes, left, scoops up dry ice before dropping it directly into rat burrows in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo)