Increase in Rodent Population for Area Communities
Sep 13, 2018 03:21PM
● By Dan Marra
Ed LeFave has lived in Wakefield for the past 25 years. And for the past year, on his pre-dawn drives to work, the Vernon Street resident has witnessed more and more rats scurrying around town roads or running across front lawns.
Many mornings, LeFave is barely out of his driveway before he sees a rat. Most times, he sees at least three or four during his daily commute.
It’s no different in Reading, where Jackie Collins held a neighborhood meeting because residents have seen so many rats in the community.
“We’ve never seen a rat before, but we heard from other residents that there was a problem, so we started putting out traps in our yard,” Collins said. “In six days we caught 10 rats in our backyard. It was shocking to us.”
The same is happening in Stoneham. Karen Pappa first saw a rat a couple houses down one morning, the next day she saw animal droppings, and then she noticed her dog’s food bowl was empty. After a call to an exterminator, she found two dead rats in her cellar.
“I have a very clean house with minimal clutter, and I am appalled that we are living under these conditions,” Pappa wrote in an email.
So what has caused this increase in the rat population?
According to John Fralick, health agent for the Stoneham Board of Health, the increase started two years ago with the combination of a mild winter and a drought. The lack of water allowed rodents to borrow further underground, and then when the water levels rose, it forced rodents above ground. Additionally, with a mild winter, the rodent breeding season lasted longer and began earlier than usual.
That assessment is corroborated by Bobby Corrigan, a rodentologist who specializes in the study of rats.
“The most common urban myth is that construction disturbs these nests, but in fact there are several factors that lead to a rise in the rodent population,” Corrington said. “August is the hottest and rattiest month of the year. And typically rats, while they don’t hibernate, they go dormant in the winter months and stop reproducing, but because we’ve seen warmer winters in the northeast, instead of beginning their mating season in April, it may move to March or even earlier.”
Additionally, rats have a three week gestation period where females can have up to 10 rats, according to Corrington. So every month a female rat can breed 10 additional rats. Plus, because the northeast is more heavily populated, there is more trash for rats to consume, increasing the population in communities.
“You can do the math,” Corrington said. “Every female born can increase the rat population ten-fold. A hundred rats can turn into a thousand rats in one month, and it can just go up from there.”
So, what can be done?
According to Corrington, communities need a town-wide approach to deter the rat population, most notably, eliminating their food source. This would mean focusing on homeowners, businesses, public trails and securing garbage.
Both Stoneham and Wakefield have held community meetings to inform the public about what can be done on their property. According to Fralick, Stoneham has also focused on its local food establishments, encouraging them to increase their pest control inspections to twice a month, as well as increasing trash removal, as an attempt to limit the rodent food supply.
According to Ruth Clay, health agent in Wakefield, the town has always seen a steady rodent population, and while the town held a public information session for residents over the summer, she believes things have calmed down in town.
“This is old news at this point,” Clay said.
Reading has acknowledged the issue at a recent Board of Health meeting, where health agent Laura Vlasuk said they had received 24 rodent complaints in recent weeks. And at this past Board of Selectmen meeting, Town Manager Bob LeLacheur said that “money is no object” in dealing with the rodent problem. However, it is not clear what the town has done in an attempt to decrease the rodent population, outside of issuing a press release two years ago, informing residents of an increase in rodents.
The Reading Health Department did not return calls requesting more information on this issue.