Rodent Control in Response to COVID-19

Features - COVID-19 Coverage

Extreme rodent behavior and migration patterns are being reported in rodent hot spots.

May 14, 2020

The New Orleans Mosquito, Rodent and Termite Control Board (NOMRTCB) practicing social distancing. From left to right Phil Smith, Timmy Madere and Mark Myers. (Photo: Jillian del Sol)


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.”

Another observation from Madere 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 NOMRTCB 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 as well. 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 access 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.

“In theory, they will be more receptive to control measures. In the past they might not have sought out that block in the bait box or gone to check out what was in the snap trap.” Bloom added that rodent sightings often act as a “catalyst” for getting his company’s phones ringing with service requests, so that could be a positive.

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, as of April 13 the city had nearly 500 calls during a 30-day span regarding rodents, according to city 311 data.


Brian Schoonmaker, president of Capital Pest, Bethesda, Md., said he has been regularly emailing clients, keeping them in the loop about COVID-19 and pest considerations, and notifying them that pest control has been classified as an essential service. Still, Schoonmaker said his company, unfortunately, has had a handful of customers suspend their pest control service, and others who have modified their 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 United States from COVID-19 is believed to have 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 he 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 March 4 — and many folks are only calling in when the situation becomes so desperate they can’t wait.”

The author is Internet/managing editor of PCT and can be contacted at

Fred Speer and son Dylan on screen for one of the virtual Bug Zoo videos.

COVID-19 News & Notes

Clark’s Speer Keeps Bug Zoo Alive

For the last 10 years, Clark Pest Control, Lodi, Calif., has been connecting with the communities it serves through its popular traveling Bug Zoo. Under the leadership of Fred Speer, digital community manager and bug zookeeper for Clark Pest Control, the program has visited more than 300 schools, educating about 26,000 students, who get an up-close look at insects. Additionally, Clark provides each student with a backpack filled with insect coloring books, stickers, tattoos, etc., all of which help spread the Clark brand. Thanks to the efforts of Speer, the program is being kept alive through a virtual version of the Bug Zoo.

“My wife [Jennifer] and I sat down and said, ‘You know, kids are at home working on lesson plans, is there something we can do for them?’ and that’s how we came up with the virtual Bug Zoo — to bring the experience to students’ homes,” said Speer, who then began contacting schools to let them know that although he would miss them this year, here was something teachers could add to their lesson plans to hold them over.

Speer describes the videos as junior entomologist-themed and they feature him and his son Dylan, 7, who is tasked with handling the insects, such as roaches and spiders. Wife Jennifer is behind the camera as the videographer. Thus far, the Speers have created four videos featuring the following insects: Chaco golden knee tarantula; Madagascar hissing cockroach; Asian forest scorpion; and Chilean rose hair tarantula.


Companies Adding Cleaning Services

As reported in April PCT, many pest control firms are adding cleaning/disinfecting or fine-tuning and actively marketing an existing service, as a strategy to make up for revenues lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, 56% of respondents to an April 2020 PCT Reader Poll indicated they offer cleaning/disinfecting services. Several pest control companies recently made PCT aware of their cleaning/disinfecting services, including.

  • U.S. Pest Protection, Nashville, Tenn.
  • Rentokil
  • Truly Nolen
  • Terminix
  • Bug Busters, Atlanta area
  • Sprague Pest Solutions, Tacoma, Wash.
  • American Pest, Fulton, Md.

Read more about these cleaning service offerings at


Oi, Anderson Collaborate on Series of Articles

Industry consultant Kemp Anderson and Dr. Faith Oi, an associate extension scientist at the University of Florida, have joined forces to author a series of articles related to COVID-19. In the series, Oi shares her insights on the quickly emerging science as it applies to our industry, while Anderson provides analysis of the economic impact this event is having on our industry and what we can expect looking forward, along with business-specific actions when applicable. Articles include: “Basic FAQs of Operating as an Essential Service in the Era of COVID-19”; “The Potential Economics of COVID-19”; “Business Considerations for PCOs”; and more. Access the articles at or at


Smithereen Assists Restaurant and Hospital Customers

Smithereen Pest Management Services, Niles, Ill., is supporting hospital workers in association with other local businesses by delivering meals to frontline hospital workers during the months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of Smithereen SELECT, a company-wide volunteer program that began in 2011, Smithereen has been partnering with local businesses McWethy’s Tavern in Romeoville, Ill., and Bartolini’s Restaurant in Midlothian, Ill., to deliver box meals to their hospital customers treating COVID-19 patients.

Smithereen donated 100 meals in the first weeks of April and plans were in place for a second meal delivery.