Why Rats Thrive in New York City

In a cringing episode of the PBS series Human Footprint, biologist Shane Campbell-Staton spoke with Bobby Corrigan, renowned urban rodentologist, who explained how and why rats have become so prevalent in all of New York City. Corrigan also took Campbell-Staton on a rat safari around the city to show what’s being done to control rat populations.

The longer rats live in our cities, the better they get at it…  and the harder we try to keep them out. …Food in a big city of high density  humans is extremely reliable. So this becomes like basically the rat buffet. It does. It’s hard to imagine New York City without rats…  so how did they become such a fixture here? If we want to know the story of rats in New  York City, we have to know what were they doing before they got here.

Campbell-Staton also consulted with Jason Munshi-South, a biologist who spoke to the history of rats.

When the brown rat made it here,  it sort of hit the jackpot. The brown rat, or Rattus norvegicus, probably  originated in East Asia, where it was first drawn to human settlements by agriculture. But as people around the world moved into dense cities full of trash, human waste, and safe  hiding places, rat populations soared. Without meaning to, we built a rat paradise. Rats don’t have to go to much trouble to find homes because we provide these for them. Made  to order. Everything but the welcome mat.

NYC Rats

Sounds like they are here to stay.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.