Rats on the rise as NYC expands outdoor dining

As New Yorkers take to the city’s streets to enjoy a meal outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic, some of the city’s oldest residents are enjoying the new focus on outdoor eating as well. Rats.

This spring’s coronavirus shutdown led to a decline in New York City’s rat population as many starved to death, but as more and more people emerge from their apartments, the remaining rat population is once again enjoying our leftovers.

“It has had a significant impact on the rat population, their behavior, and so on,” said Mike Deutsch, an entomologist.

Deutsch authored a paper called “Rats and COVID-19” in which he explained how the closing of restaurants forced rats to leave their favorite feeding, breeding, and nesting grounds in search of food.

“So the rodents were being seen in areas where they typically hadn’t been seen,” Deutsch said.

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 us with fewer rats. But the ones that remained were largely the biggest, strongest, smartest, most aggressive rats nature had to offer.

Now, as restaurants across the city offer outdoor dining, those alpha and beta rats have returned.

“Now, these of course are not the same rats as we had six months ago. This is a new brood, new births have happened and they're going to try and reestablish themselves,” Deutsch said.

This change is a concern for restaurants, as, after months of economic struggles, they now cannot prevent their diners from potentially having an unfortunate experience with a rat. 

“Just be prepared,” Deutsch said. “You’re going to see more rat activity in the cities.”

Rat complaints had fallen to historic lows in the city in March, April, and May.

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