Stranded rat carcasses suggest mass rodent deaths during Ida, experts say

A fraction of the rats that washed up in Canarsie Park that weekend


A fraction of the rats that washed up in Canarsie Park that weekend

Courtesy of Neal Phillip

Neal Phillip was cycling through Canarsie Park on Saturday when something stopped him: almost a dozen puffy rat corpses lying stomach up on a strip of sand overlooking Jamaica Bay.

“When I saw the first one, I thought it was strange. Then I saw them everywhere, ”recalls Philip, professor of environmental science at the Bronx Community College. “Seeing you so dead wasn’t very pleasant.”

Similar mass deaths of rodents have occurred in other locations across the five boroughs in recent days, a dismal result of the floods of Tropical Storm Ida. Experts believe hundreds of thousands of rats could have perished in the Flood, leading to one of the biggest pest control incidents in decades.

“In that particular storm, any rats in the sewers were either crushed by the current or washed into the rivers,” said Bobby Corrigan, a longtime pest control expert and former rodent scientist with the NYC Department of Health. “I can’t imagine that they would have survived.”

Although there are no reliable censuses of rats in New York City, estimates typically start at many millions. A significant portion lives in the subways and sewers, both of which were quickly inundated during last week’s historic rains.

there are drowned rats on the streets of new york today and i have a feeling that if the rats don’t make it, none of us will get nowhere

– Irene (@lanadelslayee) September 2, 2021

The appearance of drowned rats in Canarsie Park, as well as similar reports on the opposite side of Jamaica Bay, suggest that many were carried by the city’s mixed water pipes. When this system is overwhelmed by heavy rain, its contents – primarily human litter and storm runoff; but also potentially rats – are released from drains into local bays and estuaries.

Rats are skilled swimmers. But many were likely to be outdone by the sudden soak, a record 3.15 inches of rain in a single hour. “I would guess that hundreds of thousands died easily,” Corrigan estimated, including “an entire generation of puppies” or baby rats.

Yet even after the local rat population has suffered a major blow, close observers say that the city’s most maligned and indomitable species has, conversely, become more visible.

Several exterminators speaking to Gothamist / WNYC said they have received an increase in complaints since Tropical Storm Ida as surviving rats seek refuge above ground in private homes and public spaces.

Timothy Wong, an exterminator at M&M Pest Control for two decades, said the number of rats tripled in the days following Ida. “It’s a huge climb, we’ve never seen anything like it before.”

A NYC Department of Health spokesman said no increase in rat discomfort has been seen since Ida, adding that it may be too early to say.

But Wong said he has received a barrage of complaints about rats invading Brooklyn brownstones, burrowing in planters of outdoor dining sheds, and building nests in parked cars. On several occasions, he responded to calls for swarms of flies, only to find them circling a drowned rat “like a scene from the Bible.”

A similar surge in rat discomfort followed Superstorm Sandy, including horror stories about the rodents making their new homes within the apartment walls. However, experts said most of the displaced population will remain on the city streets, sparking turf wars and increasing the presence of day rats at a time when the pest population is already at an all-time high.

“I saw an increase in rats in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens – the storm took everything to a higher level,” said Frank Deuidicibus, an owner of A-Expert Extermination Company Inc. He said the complaints have been down 20% since then increased last week, but were higher than ever before Ida.

The dead rats are already attracting the attention of New York City’s omnivorous wildlife. Corrigan pointed to a recent viral video of a blue heron devouring a whole rat as a possible example of the Ida feast.

“It has to happen everywhere,” he suggested. “This was a huge meat dump for all the scavengers – the raccoons, the hawks, the herons.”

He also pointed out another popular video that some of the media described as a rat happily dancing through New York’s floodwaters. In addition to the fact that the video was uploaded earlier this summer and likely shot in the Philippines, viewers were seriously misled about the rat’s emotional state.

“That rat doesn’t do the cha-cha slide,” Corrigan said. “This rat is terminally drowning.”

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