Sewer rats invade New York City as COVID restrictions ease

The number of rat complaints in New York City has skyrocketed as COVID restrictions ease, according to data from the city's 311 hotline.

There were more than 29,000 calls in March about rats, up from 16,000 calls during the same time period last year.  The rodents are feasting after the pandemic made food scarce for them, said pest control experts.

"The sewers are the issue," Robert Corrigan, Urban Rodentologist, told FOX 5 News. "The city rat we have also has the common name the sewer rat. This animal loves to go down into the earth. During the winter there's no snow, no cold, it's like having a temperature that is conducive but it's hard to get into sewers to control rats."

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Brooklyn had the highest number of complaints followed by Manhattan and Queens.

Rat complaints fell to historic lows in New York City during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, but six months later, the rodents were plentiful and began their comeback.

The city has historically been home to as many rats as people or about eight million rodents.

Last spring’s coronavirus shutdown led to a decline in New York City’s rat population as many starved to death, but as more people emerged from their apartments as restrictions were lifted, the remaining rat population once again enjoyed leftovers. 

Many of the sickest, smallest, and weakest rats, the so-called "omega rats," lowest on the rat hierarchy and living on the fringes of rat colonies starved to death, leaving fewer rats. But the ones that remained were largely the biggest, strongest, smartest, most aggressive rats nature had to offer.

This spring, the pattern appears to be repeating itself.