Humans have been battling rats for eons, but during the pandemic the rats seemed to be winning. In 2021, reports of the rodents to New York City’s 311 help line were way above prepandemic levels. This year, complaints are piling up at a similar pace.
But according to an annual study by the pest-control company Orkin, Chicago is America’s rattiest city — for the eighth year running. New York came in second, rising from third place last year, followed by Los Angeles, Washington and San Francisco. The study ranked cities according to the number of new rodent treatments performed, and the results are shown in this week’s chart.
Benjamin Hottel, an entomologist with Orkin, couldn’t say exactly what it is about Chicago that has consistently made it the “rattiest,” but he did say that, like New York, “it is a densely populated city and it does have older sections that can have structural problems.” Those cracks and crevices are invitations for vermin.
Newer buildings tend to be better sealed, but rats are smart — they’ve been trained to hunt for earthquake survivors and victims of land mines. That brain power can foil exterminators’ efforts. “It’s interesting to go from insects, which are very predictable, to any of the vertebrates, like rats, that can have much more complex behavior,” noted Dr. Hottel.
Cockroaches don’t typically avoid new things and will crawl straight into traps, he said, while rats can be cautious of new objects. “They can get into PVC piping, they can chew through cables, they can chew through walls,” he said.
Cars aren’t immune, either. Rodents are known to nest in them and chew tasty, soy-based wire insulation. A particularly frightening rat scenario emerged in Japan in 2013 when, two years after the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, an extended blackout disabled vital cooling systems, threatening another meltdown. The suspected cause: damage to electrical wires by a rat whose charred remains were discovered in the works.
Chicagoans and New Yorkers alike may take minor comfort in the fact that Norway rats, which like to burrow and live underground, are the predominant species in both cities. Roof rats, more common in other areas, are climbers. I, for one, prefer my local rats to scurry on the ground rather than lurk in the dark above.
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