Rats are prolific breeders, and there are millions of them in New York City.
New York City has millions of rats.
Matt Deodato uses carbon monoxide to kill thousands in their burrows.
Store owners are so grateful, they offer him coffee and beer.
There are millions of rats in New York City. Politicians have tried numerous ways to control the population.
A fairly new approach for the city involves pumping carbon monoxide gas into their burrows. It seems remarkably effective, eradicating nearly 100% of the burrows in the tree pits where it was applied. Matt Deodato, the owner of Urban Pest Management, told Insider he’s killed thousands of rats with the method.
Deodato said he’s seen New Yorkers kick away rats as they sit on park benches. “That’s how desensitized they have become with dealing with rats in New York,” he said. That doesn’t mean people aren’t happy to see him, though.
He’s had shop owners bring him coffee and pastries. “They will shake our hands, even offer some beer here and there to help them out because it affects their business,” he said.
But he has some admiration for rats, too. “It’s an amazing little thing,” he said of the rodent. They’re strong swimmers, prolific breeders, nimble explorers, and champion chewers. “They’re very resilient,” Deodato said.
The life and death of rats in New York City
Bethany Brookshire, author of “Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains,” has called squirrels “rats with better PR.”
“A lot of times we see this hatred and disgust for animals that we see as ‘low class,'” she told Science News in 2022.
People may be conditioned to fear rats because they can carry disease.
“We are preprogrammed to learn to avoid things that make us sick,” the late Val Curtis, who was a behavioral scientist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told National Geographic in 2019. That includes rats, which can carry bacteria and viruses.
Carbon monoxide is one of the more humane ways to kill rats. On the other hand, poison is not only slow and painful for the rats, it’s often ineffective, according to National Geographic.
If another animal eats the poisoned rat, it can die, too. There’s no similar secondary effect with carbon monoxide. But the gas is also deadly for humans and pets and can’t be used indoors.
Not everyone is a fan of the method, especially because it can get messy when Deodato has to use other means to kill escaping rats. But, Deodato said, “the majority of the people in New York are clapping because they are done with the rats.”
A never-ending feast for rats
Parsons has written that because rats reproduce so rapidly, it’s impossible to control their numbers without also cutting off their food supply.
A rat climbs into a box with food in it on the platform at the Herald Square subway station in New York City.
Gary Hershorn/Getty Images
Rats can have seven litters a year with about eight pups each, according to The Smithsonian. Follow that family tree for a couple of years, and a pair of rats begets hundreds of thousands more.
The city needs to do a better job of removing garbage so it’s not an all-out smorgasbord for the rats, according to Parsons.
Deodato agreed that better sanitation is the most important piece of the solution. “By eliminating food, eliminating harborage, you eliminate the rat,” he said.