West Side Rats

Most of us are familiar with the classic musical “West side story”, a tale of two rival gangs set in the big city of New York. The gangs had their own territories and knew them like the back of their hands. If one group crossed the line trouble usually followed and the advantage went to the ‘home team.’

City rats it’s been discovered are a lot like this. Well minus the knife fighting to the sound of a 50 piece orchestra. The city of Baltimore has been the site of recent studies and the conclusions surprised some researchers.

On any given day in the city of Baltimore it’s not unusual to see a rat in broad day light. They seem to run free and have no boundaries. The scientists from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health have determined however that rats have established territories that rarely go more than a city block. These rats are part of a larger community which may cover more area but is made up of similar sized factions that may only inhabit an alley, empty lot or building. Other communities with their sub families form in other parts of town and are usually divided by a physical barrier such as a river.

Baltimore like many big cities has spent large amounts of money to eradicate these rodents and there is no shortage of work for the many pest control companies but the number of rats has stayed the same for the last 50 years. Perhaps the rat has divided this way as a means of survival. It may be smaller areas mean that the rats in that area have every advantage mapped out. They know where all of food and water is as well as hiding and escape spots are.

Only in times of trouble, according to the study do rats venture away from home base. They can go as far as 7 miles to find a vacant area where they can establish a new ‘turf’. When I worked in Baltimore we would always get calls from neighborhoods that had major construction or demolition nearby. The rats would be everywhere and as a tech it was always pretty easy to trap and kill the first wave. Perhaps they were not so familiar with the new surroundings but it wouldn’t take them long and things were not so easy.

Probably the absolute worst rat job I’ve ever done even still to this day was in the heart of downtown. It was a very large open market and every kind of food imaginable was there. The first night we sent a team of 10 to 12 technicians in to do a sort of ‘shock and awe’ treatment. I’m not sure if the rats were in shock or we were. I had never seen so many rats in my life and they seemed oblivious that we were there. Our traps caught 43 rats as I remember but it didn’t even make a dent. For the next year or so I was the lucky tech who serviced the account every Tuesday morning beginning at 4 am. I felt pretty hopeless at times as even my best attempts didn’t seem to make a difference. As a side note I worked on commission and my pay for that stop was about $18.37 for the 3 hours it took to service it.

In light of this new study I wonder if this was some mega territory or the draw of so much food brought other nearby rats into the mix and they disregarded their tendencies of staying in their home areas. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out as I took the first open sales territory that came up. I guess I was a rat in trouble and just had to move on for my own survival.

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About The Bug Doctor

Jerry Schappert is a certified pest control operator and Associate Certified Entomologist with over two and a half decades of experience from birds to termites and everything in between. He started as a route technician and worked his way up to commercial/national accounts representative. Always learning in his craft he is familiar with rural pest services and big city control techniques. Jerry has owned and operated a successful pest control company since 1993 in Ocala,Florida. While his knowledge and practical application has benefitted his community Jerry wanted to impart his wisdom on a broader scale to help many more. Pestcemetery.com was born from that idea in 2007 and has been well received. It is the goal of this site to inform you with his keen insights and safely guide you through your pest control treatment needs.

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