(Pictured, the New Orleans Mosquito, Rodent and Termite Control Board (NOMRTCB) practicing social distancing. From left to right Phil Smith, Timmy Madere and Mark Myers.)
NEW ORLEANS - In his role as a pest control specialist with the New Orleans Mosquito, Rodent and Termite Control Board (NOMRTCB), Timmy Madere often interacts with the citizens of New Orleans.
“Hey, the rats were out playing in the streets last night,” Madere recalled of a recent comment made to him by a New Orleans citizen. “Well, not really,” Madere thought to himself, realizing that those rats actually were cannibalizing a Norway rat.
“I was surprised at just how quickly cannibalism was happening,” Madere said. “This was just one week after COVID-19” resulted in the state closing down bars and restaurants, eliminating the main food sources for rodents in the French Quarter.
While this respite of people and food in the French Quarter has been bad news for rats, it’s actually given NOMRTCB unique opportunities to make a dent in the city’s Norway rat population.
“For the first three weeks, in the French Quarter and down on the river, we had empty bait stations every day. They were just destroying bait,” Madere said. “Now, the dropoff has been dramatic. Talking to citizens now, they are just seeing dead ones.”
What Madere has noticed is rats migrating to neighborhoods where NOMRTCB doesn’t traditionally see them. “We started in the problem area, which is the French Quarter, and we are chasing them - it’s like we are right behind them. We’ll go into a neighborhood and find new burrows in places where we never would have seen them. Everyone is stuck inside now. All that ‘restaurant garbage’ is now ‘home garbage.’ The rodents have figured that out too.”
Madere said NOMTCRB has been working alongside pest control companies, including DA Exterminating, Billiot Pest Control, Terminix (New Orleans franchise) and Orkin, to line the city’s streets with bait stations.
Chris Caire, vice president of DA Exterminating, concurred that his company’s service professionals are spotting rodents in broad daylight and observing burrows in non-traditional areas in the French Quarter, such as restaurant courtyards. His technicians also said rats are more aggressively trying to access these buildings, and that one of his technicians actually used sheet metal as part of his exclusion work. “Some of the restaurants we service have not re-opened, but we have reached out to the owners or representatives and thankfully they are letting us in,” Caire said.
How might COVID-19 change New Orleans’ rodent populations in the future? “We are worried about roof rat dynamics," Madere said. “We know they are getting all the food from [people’s homes] and extra food means extra big litters. We could become a predominantly roof rat city with pockets of Norway rats,” Madere said.
Reports of extreme rodent behavior and migrations have come from other parts of the country. PCT caught up with several pest management professionals to get their rodent observations.
NEW YORK. Similar to New Orleans’ French Quarter, New York’s lack of restaurant garbage is causing rodents to adapt with cannibalism and migration. As PCT columnist and rodentologist Bobby Corrigan explained to NBC News, rats are “mammals just like you and I, and so when you’re really, really hungry, you’re not going to act the same - you’re going to act very bad, usually. So these rats are fighting with one another, now the adults are killing the young in the nest and cannibalizing the pups.”
Gil Bloom, president of Standard Pest Management, Astoria, N.Y., said it’s been difficult for his company to access a lot of the restaurants it services (which are mostly located in now-closed buildings), but he said when his technicians do gain access personnel have mentioned increased rodent activity. One challenge he foresees is that the amount of residential trash has increased, and sanitation schedules are off; when his technicians do gain access to trash rooms, they are overcrowded with trash. Bloom thinks once things return to normal pest management professionals might have good opportunities to knock down rodent populations.
PHILADELPHIA. In Philadelphia, Marty Overline, president of Aardvark Pest Management, said rodents are more visible, seeking out food sources because less food is being placed in exterior trash cans and dumpsters. He also thinks rodents might be more attracted to employee work areas (in commercial settings) because he’s observed large amounts of food left in employee desks, student rooms, closets, food storage areas, etc.
Overline said that in buildings he’s been able to access there is at least one or two essential personnel that will allow entry. “This is where knowing your accounts and its key employees is of importance. Our strategy has been to increase rodenticide amounts in our exterior stations because of not knowing what the future brings. We also have installed tremendous amounts of traps inside the buildings that have been known to have rodent issues.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. Another traditional hot spot for rodents is Washington, D.C. As reported by NBC News, in the past 30 days, the city has had nearly 500 calls regarding rodents, according to city 311 data.
One concern shared by Brian Schoonmaker, president of Bethesda, Md.-based Capitol Pest, is that rats can carry, transmit, and especially move COVID-19 from one location to another, or one apartment to another.
Despite pest control being classified as an essential service, Schoonmaker said his company, unfortunately, still has a handful of customers who have suspended the service, and others who have modified the service. “The population of all pests will explode as a direct result of professional services not happening to prevent pest issues and people staying home. More people are eating at home and creating more trash,” he said. “This will allow the populations to breed more and the issues will multiply.”
Many companies in the pest control industry are using remote rodent monitoring technology, and the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the potential of this technology. As Wayne White, vice president, technical services of Fulton, Md.-based American Pest, noted, “Remote rodent monitoring and capture in a world where we don’t have the access we used to, might be even more important.”
SEATTLE. Seattle gained unwanted national attention because the first reported death in the U.S. from COVID-19 occurred in the Emerald City. Residents are now observing how the city’s rodents are becoming more noticeable. In a March 30 article titled "The Rats of Seattle Seem to Be Enjoying Human Social Distancing," that appeared in The Stranger, writer Charles Mudede observed that at around 5 p.m., "The sun was still high in the sky. And these rats, if my eyes did not deceive me, were just having fun and not worrying about the giants whose presence usually puts the fear of God in them. They did not scurry or dart or dash. They instead pranced about the wood chips like students in a high school musical."
Ron Wikstrom, director of operations, United Pest Solutions, Kenmore, Wash., said he’s observed that the number of outdoor sightings has definitely increased “even some of our more rural outlying areas that traditionally have far less pressure are now having increased pressure.”
Although he didn’t have any hard data, Wikstrom said that based on phone calls and observations be believes rodent pressure is higher than normal. “The lead count has not necessarily increased because the COVID-19 statewide lockdown did not go into place until May 4th — and many folks are only calling in when the situation becomes so desperate they can’t wait.”