Rats rejoice for warm winters

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By Jack Nissen

Rats will thrive thanks to a mild winter. Image: Jans Canon

Another mild winter in 2015-2016 added another ingredient to this year’s recipe for rat growth in Great Lakes cities.

Windsor came in seventh on Orkin Canada’s “rattiest” cities in Ontario. The surge prompted the city to once again provide a free baiting program.

Baiters place traps where the rodents live. They return up to four times to exterminate them. This service is offered for free for families in need said Anne-Marie Albidone, the city’s environmental service manager.

That’s a change from 2016, when a $100 fee was charged to any homeowner interested in the program, said Albidone. That fee hindered participation by low income citizens.

“Coupled with the previous winter’s mild winter, this only magnified the problem,” Albidone said.

For the 2016-2017 winter, the city allocated $20,000 to make the program free for residents again. A government-funded policy like this is only used in two cities in Ontario – Windsor and Sault Ste. Marie, Albidone said.

The Rattus norvegicus, known as the Norway rat, doesn’t need much to survive. Matthew Frye, an integrated pest management educator for the state of New York, says they’re versatile rodents. They eat garbage, live in sewers and when there isn’t a predator around, they prosper. Without the cold temperatures that impede rodents from populating, they have thrived in Ontario and the U.S. Midwest.

“With decreasing fluctuations in temperature, if there isn’t a stark cold, then their populations aren’t as affected by those temperatures,” Frye said.

Mild winters have made cities in the Great Lakes and Midwestern region prime real estate for rats. In colder months, typically any food that rats consume goes straight towards survival. With extra food to go around there is more time to reproduce and to spread, Frye said.

Rats reproduce often and reach sexual maturity quickly, Albidone said. It only takes these rodents four months to have babies. With typically eight to 12 offspring per litter and four to seven litters per year, rats can quickly overtake urban centers.

These factors spell success for the rats, and disaster for citizens.

Apart from the yuck factor, Albidone notes rats can spread disease. Ticks and fleas thrive in rat colonies because rodents share food and rub against each other.

That pushed Windsor to adopt other policies beyond government-run baiting, Albidone said. Along with Windsor, Midwestern and Northeastern cities are focusing on removing the sources of food like trash and sewage.

The current policy recommends citizens place their garbage in hard containers, maintain gardens and not leave food out, Albidone said. This is still just a factor in determining the rodent populations.

“If we did absolutely nothing, I would expect the populations to still be cyclical,” she said. “It still has those peaks and valleys.”

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