Statistics claim that in Britain you are never more than 20 feet away from a rat, one of Britain’s most successful mammals. This is a crude and rather misleading conclusion based on the UK rat population and the physical size of the country itself. However, there is a thread of truth in the assertion and I’ve unwillingly got up very close and personal to rats on several occasions.
Recently, when sat aboard my boat tied up in a town centre marina, I watched evening revellers enjoying their drinks on the boardwalk blissfully unaware of rats crawling inches below their feet. As people sat sipping gin in the fading evening light, brown rats were scampering along the edge of the dock just inches from their feet. The rats were out of sight and out of mind for the drinkers but my vantage point on the water revealed just how close these animals can be to us. There will be many other places where you’ll be indadvertedly cozying up with rattus norvegicus. Factories, rivers, canals, farms and of course the city streets are all favourite rat habitats. In urban areas rats are gifted an abundant food supply in the form of our litter and sewage and they thrive on that generosity. On farms rats can be a major pest; eating, destroying and contaminating grain, seed and produce. Some statistics even claim that rats chomp their way through as much as one fifth of the world’s food supply!
Rat droppings even get into food. But don’t worry, in the US at least, legal limits are set on the amount of rat poo permissible in foodstuffs! Some cultures turn the tables on the rat and bite back. Barbecued rats are on the menu in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. As the saying goes (sort of); if you can’t beat them, eat them!
I’ve had the displeasure of rats in my home although, I hasten to add, not on a dinner plate! During refurbishments to a bathroom our builder failed to properly block up a gap where the drain pipe exits the wall. A couple of rats soon exploited the hole, which only needs to be as big as their skull to allow them to squeeze in. Following their noses in search of all the food they could no doubt smell inside our home, the pair got into our house and under the bathroom floor. One subsequently found its way into our kitchen, probably through the wall cavity and began rummaging noisily for food. This proved to be a foolish move as my partner, enraged by the sight of a rat in our kitchen, soon cornered and killed it with a swift blow to its head with a broom! Its partner must have heard the commotion and died of fright for it never emerged from under the bathroom – that is not until we were forced to disconnect the plumbing, move the bath and lift up the floor to rid ourselves of the very smelly rotting rat carcass. The moral of this story is to make sure you don’t leave routes for rats to enter your home as the consequences of an infestation could be very ugly.
We called in a rat catcher who came with that most traditional of rat catching tools – a Jack Russell hound! This little mutt soon tracked the rats back to a large and well established nest under the garden shed. Acting upon the intel garnered from his faithful hound, the rat catcher man laid poison and the rats were never seen again.
Rats don’t just eat what we think of as food. They can chew their way through all manner of things, many of them expensive to replace or even dangerous. Rats chomping electrical cabling could cause fires or even electrical shock when the insulation is bitten away. Rats can munch through wood and it is said that they can even work their way through copper and aluminium. Estimates put global damage to property by rats at a staggering $19 billion, illustrating just how serious a problem this prodigious little rodent has become. Although rats keep themselves very clean, they are implicated in the carrying and spread of disease – most famously they were hosts to the fleas that spread the Black Death, bubonic plague
Controlling rat numbers is difficult. They breed extremely prolifically, one pair can multiply into 200 individuals within a year and they will think nothing of indulging in incest to help keep numbers up. Their propensity to breed would mean nothing though without a food supply as baby rats can only grow up and breed their own families if they’ve got plenty to eat. Rats are opportunists and we can’t blame them for being so prolific when it is us that constantly gifts them such great opportunities to survive and thrive.
As well as ensuring rats can’t get into your house you should take steps outside to discourage them. Don’t leave open bins or unprotected bin bags around. Keep your drains clean, have them rodded regularly to stop any rat attracting waste building up inside them. If you suspect you have a rat problem seek professional advice quickly otherwise you’ll be giving them a chance to reproduce rapidly and even damage your property.
Written by Glenn Le Santo, social media guru and live event reporter.