The war between humanity and rats is a long and bloody one with no end in sight. While we have the primitive tools of rat traps and poison in our arsenal, these rodents are trained sabotagers, capable of spoiling food, spreading disease, and starting fires by gnawing through wires.
Despite their widespread public health risks, scientists are pretty crap at stopping them. In fact, rats are the least-studied wildlife in the city, so says a new study published in the Journal of Urban Ecology.
"We neglect to study them at our own peril," Michael H Parsons, lead author of the paper and a visiting research scholar at Fordham University, said in a statement. "No war has ever decimated 1/3 of the human population. Rats have."
Researchers are now hoping to change this. Parsons is offering $1,000 to New Yorkers for information leading to an infested site in Manhattan where they can fully study rats in a “natural” urban environment.
Scientists studying rats rarely have access to real-life infested buildings, homes, and businesses. Given the chance, they could bring in scientific equipment to monitor the rats' behavior, their population distribution, the spread of germs, and test out new control methods.
The study notes that there’s been a long history of “social, historical, and logistic reasons” why rats have become a taboo subject, making them harder to study. Their association with grime and germs means that property owners, business owners, and landlords are quick to “sweep them under the rug” and to opt for the immediate gratification of killing them before long-term strategies can be developed.
“They are the bane of urban environments, associated with poverty, disease, and fines by public health authorities," co-author Jason Munshi-South, an associate professor of biology at Fordham University, said. "Business owners plagued with rats are reluctant to tell anyone, or to share their residences with researchers."
The number of people living in urban environments will increase by 2.1 billion from 2000 to 2030. By 2050, almost 70 percent of all people will live in cities. With this rapid urbanization and continued influx of humans, we will only proliferate the resources that support rats and other city pests.
So, if you know of New York digs that have a nasty infestation of rats, get in contact with the researchers and you could pocket $1,000.
Send direct correspondence to: Parsons.HMichael@gmail.com
Michael H. Parsons; Department of Biology, Hofstra University, 1000 Fulton Avenue, Hempstead, NY 11549, USA