Rats in New York City

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Rats in New York City are prevalent as in many densely populated areas; politicians and health authorities actively pursue policies and programs to manage the rat population in New York City. The exact number of rats is unknown, but it is estimated that there are at least as many rats as people. The city's rat population is dominated by the brown rat and the black rat.[1]


Though they are rarely seen in daylight and congested areas, rats have been reported in New York since early colonial days. As recently as 1944, two distinct species were prevalent: brown rat, and ship rat (black rat, roof rat). Over the next few decades, the more aggressive brown variety displaced the two others, typically by attacking and killing them, but also by outcompeting them for food and shelter because of their larger size.[2]

A rat in a flower box.

Because rats are elusive by nature, public health officials have not developed any reliable way to estimate the prevalence of rats in the city. An often-repeated statistic is that there are more rats than people in the five boroughs of New York City (8.4 million), with some estimates putting the number far higher at as many as four rats per person (32 million).[2] However a 2014 study by Jonathan Auerbach, reported in the Royal Statistical Society's Significance magazine, dismissed these figures and put the actual figure at nearer to 2 million.[3]

Studies indicate that within the United States, the city is particularly well-suited for rats, taking into account such variables as (human) population patterns, public sanitation practices, climate, housing construction standards, etc. However, experts consider that the actual population varies, depending on climate, sanitation practices, efforts to control the population, and season.[2][4]

Rats primarily find food and shelter at human places and therefore interact with humans in various ways. More often than not, rats are found in corner stores in New York. In particular, the city's rats adapt to practices and habits among New Yorkers for disposing of food waste. Curbside overnight disposal from residences, stores, subway and restaurants, as well as littering, contribute to the sustenance of the city's rats.[5] Rats have shown the ability to adapt to efforts to control them, and rat infestations have increased as a result of budget reductions, more wasteful disposal of food, etc. Rats in New York have been known to overrun restaurants after hours, crawl up sewer pipes and enter apartments through toilets. They have also attacked homeless people, eaten cadavers in the city morgue, and bitten infants to get food off their faces.[2] In 2003, a fire station in Queens was condemned and demolished after rats had taken over the building. In 2007, a morning news program featured a live report of a pack of rats overrunning a pair of fast food restaurants in Greenwich Village.[6][7][8]

A survey conducted by Columbia University in 2014 recorded the DNA of 133 rats throughout the city. The results showed the rats carried numerous pathogens, including some never before seen in New York and some completely unknown to science. While at least 18 of the viruses found are known to cause diseases in humans, it is unclear how infectious the rats actually are to residents.[9]


Local authorities in New York have long recognized that eliminating rats from the city is unrealistic, but have made various efforts to control their prevalence. The approach has traditionally been reactive: after receiving complaints of infestation, officials would target control efforts at that local site by placing rodent poison.[10][11]

In recent years, however, the city has adopted a more proactive and strategic approach to rodent control known as integrated pest management, by focusing on preventive measures. Such efforts include developing a rodent control map using geotagging to focus countermeasures more systematically; instituting a "Rodent Control Academy" that trains city employees on rat behavior and control; emphasizing building integrity and garbage disposal, etc.[12][13] In 2010, the city cut its budget for rodent control programs by $1.5 million to help reduce an overall deficit of $2 billion.[14]

In 2013, it was announced that New York municipal authorities would implement a plan for mass sterilization of the city's rats, using a chemical to neutralize the reproductive systems of female rats. Bait stations loaded with the chemical will be deployed. The chemical's effects will gradually shrink the number of pups a female rat can have in a litter, eventually rendering them infertile.[15]

New York City property owners and residents are advised to keep a keen eye out for signs of infestation like gnawed wood and plastic—rats chew to cut their teeth—and grease and dropping trails. It also pays to inspect for places of entry like gaps around pipes.[16]



  1. ^ Caroline Winter (2012-10-30). "NYC Rats: Stronger Than Sandy". Businessweek. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  2. ^ a b c d Wilsey, Sean (2005-05-17). "Some of them can read". London Review of Books. Retrieved 2010-04-05. 
  3. ^ Netburn, Deborah (2014-11-03). "Eight million rats in New York? Not even close, a new study says". Los Angeles: Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-11-05. 
  4. ^ Chan, Sewell (2007-10-04). "New York Tops a List for Rat Risk Factors". New York: New York Times (Metro). Retrieved 2010-04-05. 
  5. ^ Marshall, Lauren (2000-11-13). "Columbia Hosts First Rat Summit; Experts Seek to Control City’s Rodent Population". Columbia University Record (New York: Columbia University). 
  6. ^ Chan, Sewell (2006-12-05). "In Epic Battle, the Rat Patrol Adjusts Its Aim and Digs In". New York: New York Times. 
  7. ^ Cilgann, Corey (2003-08-07). "A Detested Emblem of Decay Is Scurrying Back. Ah, Rats!". New York: New York Times (Metro). 
  8. ^ Sikuver, Caleb (2007-02-23). "Taco Bell Rats are Stars for a Day". CNNMoney. 
  9. ^ Zimmer, Carl. "Rats and Their Alarming Bugs". The New York Times. Retrieved October 15, 2014. 
  10. ^ Gorman, Christine (2008-12-15). "Mapping the Rats of New York city". TIME. 
  11. ^ Segal, David (2007-03-20). "New York Tackles Its Gnawing Rat Problem". Washington Post. 
  12. ^ "NYC Rodent Control Academy". New York: City of New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. 
  13. ^ "Rat Information Portal". City of New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. 
  14. ^ Carvajal, Kathy; Luke Funk (2010-03-31). "New York City Rat Control Worries". MyFoxNews. 
  15. ^ John Metcalfe (2013-04-01). "The Surprisingly Gentle Science Behind New York's Plan to Sterilize Its Rats - CityLab". Theatlanticcities.com. The Atlantic Monthly Group. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  16. ^ "Rodent Problem: Where to Look For a Mouse in the House or a Rat Infestation". Knockoutpest.com. Knockout Pest Control Inc. 2012. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 


  • Sullivan, Robert. Rats: A Year with New York's Most Unwanted Inhabitants. Granta Books. ISBN 1-86207-761-4. 
  • Video: Gary Stryker (reporter), Bill Perkins (councilman), Stephen Frantz (subject matter expert). New York City Street Rats. Smithsonian Magazine/Assignment Earth. Retrieved 2010-04-07.