Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sandy vs. the rats

Graffiti by Banksy in the SoHo district of Manhattan (Photo by Caruba on Flicker).

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the question of whether the flooding had any effect on the rat population has been raised. Here are some expert opinions:

"Most of the rats that are living there will actually drown....Rats will be carried away by the current and won't be strong enough to swim to the surface and breathe, or they'll be pushed to grates, they will get stuck there and they won't be strong enough to swim against the current."~Herwig Leirs, rodentologist at the University of Antwerp in Belgium

 "Rats are incredibly good swimmers, and they can climb [so they will escape the floods and head for safer ground]."~ Rick Ostfeld, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Milbrook, N.Y.

"Baby rats will perish unless their mothers can carry them to safety."~Robert M. Corrigan, rodentologist who works with the City of New York

"The underground systems are the first things rats reach when breaking through the soil in search of sustenance. This perpetual hunger likely killed many as floodwaters washed back through their tunnels into their nests, probably killing the sick, the elderly, and new mothers with their young."~Benett Pearlman, exterminator with New York-based Positive Pest Management Corp.

"So, my guess is that most of the rats survived. But quite a large number of rats drowned – depending on exact location, depth, how much they know how to get to the surface at all, their exact route to the surface, and their status in the social hierarchy."~Bora Zivkovic, biology teacher and blog editor at Scientific American

The answers conflict, but then again so do the numbers, which range from a low of 8 million to a high of 32 million or more. One thing is assured: the old chestnut about one rat per person has been shown to be a myth.

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