Aces Rodent Blog


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mice are an old pest control issue!
Mice pest control grey lynn auckland Mice exermination could be the oldest profession? Its been said before- there is nothing new under the sun. Never more true, when it comes to mice.  If you ever get a house, eventually you get a mouse or so Ogden Nash once wrote. And science seems to be catching up with poetry. The standard thinking until now has been that the house mouse, Mus musculus, only began its intimate relationship with humans at the dawn of agriculture, roughly 11,500 years ago. In effect, you had to have a farm, not just a house, before mice moved in to raid the stored grain. It turns out, however, that the house alone. A hut even was enough to do the trick, according to a new study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. M. musculus began to hang around with humans, the study’s authors wrote, at least 15,000 years ago, during the so-called Natufian era in the Middle East, when late-stage hunter–gatherers were just beginning to adopt a more settled way of life. It was an on-again, off-again relationship at first, with both species occupying the same settlements for a season or a two at a time. But for the mouse already becoming the house mouse—that early connection became the springboard to world conquest as one of humanity’s closest companions. Even though the new study is limited to mice, co-author Fiona Marshall of Washington University in Saint Louis speculates house cats might also have begun their relationship with humans in the preagricultural period. (Cats tend to follow mice, as Ogden Nash noted, “in a trice.”) The study also relies on evidence from an archaeological dig at Ain Mallaha in northern Israel that is already well known for the earliest archaeological evidence of dog domestication: In a 15,000-year-old grave there, a woman buried in a loose fetal position rests her hand against the body of a small puppy. The authors describe the preagricultural shift to a more settled way of life as a turning point in human and environmental history with “a profound, long-lasting and unpredictable influence on the human niche”—and the mice, cats, dogs and other familiar species that came to cohabit it. To examine the mouse connection in detail, the researchers took a new look at seemingly insignificant specimens mouse teeth that had been sitting on the shelf in a natural history museum for decades. The pioneering Israeli archaeozoologist Eitan Tchernov excavated many of them beginning in the 1950s, and he saw enough evidence even then to theorize about the unexpected abundance of house mice in hunter gatherer settlements. But he didn’t have the radiocarbon dates we have now, says co-author Lior Weissbrod, an archaeozoologist at the University of Haifa.  The understanding of the timing of the Natufian really changed with carbon 14 dating and the switch to accelerator mass spectrometry as a technique for accurately dating small samples, beginning in the 1980s. The new study also had the advantage of high-precision digital photography and computer-assisted analysis to make side-by-side comparisons of 372 mouse teeth, from a 200,000-year span at five sites around Israel. That enabled the co-authors to distinguish easily, by the shape of the teeth, between the familiar, long-tailed M. musculus and its short-tailed cousin Mus macedonius. During periods of human occupation, the researchers found, musculus moved into human settlements, probably attracted by food waste and small stores of foraged barley, wild wheat and nuts. Something about musculus made it better suited than M. macedonius to thrive in the dark corners of human habitations. A longer tail, for instance, might have made it more agile for climbing and for escape.  In any case, the abundance of musculus specimens during periods of human occupation, the co-authors wrote, indicates musculus effectively outcompeted macedonius. But during periods when humans resumed their nomadic ways, macedonius took over again around their abandoned settlements. The results are of interest, Weissbrod says, partly because human intentionality,  which complicates the question of how cats or dogs became domesticated, does not really come into play with mice. “When we’re looking at mice and at shifting proportions of two mouse species over time, we are looking purely at ecology, the effects of settlements on mice, and not at human intentions.” As a reality check on ancient ecology, the study also includes evidence about changing populations of two closely related mouse species in modern Kenya. On the southern border there, a Maasai community is now making the shift from a herding way of life to periods of increasing settlement, much as the Natufians did 15,000 years ago.  And again, a long-tailed mouse, this time Acomys ignitus, appears to thrive in human habitations, outcompeting its short-tailed neighbor, Acomys wilsoni. The Maasai do not store large quantities of grain, says Weissbrod, who conducted that part of the study, and they expressed no strong feelings about the mice that had begun to live among them. Intentionality only turned up, he notes, among neighbors who farm and store grain, and tend to talk about mice, predictably, in terms of how to get rid of them. The connection between mice and preagricultural humans is certainly for me a new finding and interesting, says Jeremy Searle, a Cornell University evolutionary biologist who has written extensively about domestication of both cats and mice but did not participate in the new study. “We have tended to think that house mice have been associated with humans only when there are large quantities of stored grain from farming. He calls the study genuinely a new approach.  I really love the fact that something like the house mouse not a big keystone species, not high profile, not charismatic is giving us a wonderful window on some of the more momentous events in human history,” adds the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Melinda Zeder, who also was not part of the work. “What this is showing,” says Zeder, an influential thinker on commensalism and domestication, is that the increasingly settled character of human communities really has definite impacts on the natural world and not just in a negative way. “It’s building what one might call an anthropogenic niche, and it’s creating a host of opportunities. For mice, of course, but also for archaeologists who see this whole range of mesocarnivores affiliating with these human environments. The number of wild cat and fox bones increases dramatically as well as things like weasels, badgers, martens, polecats, Zeder says. Until recently people tended to think about domestication as a matter of human mastery  over nature, she adds.  But as we understand the process of domestication more, we see it in terms of these mutualisms, these ecological systems that people are part of,” with humans and other species each looking to its own advantage, sometimes to the benefit of both. The new study fits this more mutual way of thinking about domestication, with preagricultural settlements like Ain Mallaha as the stage on which species—mice, cats, dogs and also humans in effect “tried out” for life with one another. We are still ambivalent about some of the resulting associations. Ogden Nash, for instance, thought cats were ultimately more annoying than mice. But for many of us, it was the beginning of some of our most beautiful friendships. original article By Richard Conniff published in Scientific American  modified by ACES pest control

rats and housing issues
mouse extermination takpauna auckland   ACES pest control is often asked to work with either the tenant or the landlord on the issue of rodent control. ACES provides online payment meaning the landlord doesnt have to be present to make payment at the appointment date.    Tenant with rats in walls can't afford to move     A woman living in a Wellington flat with rats in the walls says the Prime Minister's view that soaring rental prices are a sign of "success" is stupid and ridiculous. A social housing provider said the shortage in the capital was the worst it had been. Yet Prime Minister Bill English remains steadfast that there is no housing crisis. Rental prices shot up 7 percent last year in Wellington to a median of $480 a week. At the same time, the number of properties available for rent plunged. Wellington's prices are just shy of Auckland's. When asked if he was concerned that a queue of prospective renters lined up outside a flat in Wellington at the weekend, Mr English said the heated Wellington rental market was a "problem of success". The rental squeeze was a concern for people looking for accommodation in the capital, but he believed the Wellington City Council understood the problem, he said. "I hope they [the council] are working hard to enable the development that's needed," he said. "Wellington hasn't experienced pressure on its housing market for quite a long time. And as long as they respond quickly, they'll be able to deal with it." Mr English maintained housing was not as big an issue as some said. "No, I don't think there's a housing crisis". A renter from the suburb of Brooklyn said she, her partner and their newborn baby live in a house with rats in the walls. She said it was covered in black mould when they moved in. They could not afford something better so were reluctantly renewing their lease. RatsA Brooklyn renter says she is living with rodents because she can't afford to move. Photo: 123RF For that reason she asked RNZ not to use her name. When asked what she made of Mr English's comment, she said, "Success for whom?" "We went to a whole bunch of open homes and you just see so many people that are in similar situations to us, or have more kids, it's just impossible. "Is the city, are the councillors, successful because a whole bunch of people in their city can't find a place to live? It's just stupid." Labour's housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said Mr English's comment showed he was out of touch. "This is a housing market that is beginning to look like Auckland and some of the other markets around the country - it's enriching landlords, speculators and those who own their own homes, but it's impoverishing everyone else, including the half of the population that are renters. "This is not good news," Mr Twyford said. At a public meeting on renting in Wellington last night, social housing provider Dwell chief executive Alison Cadman said there was a housing need in Wellington when she started the job 13 years ago. "I hoped at that time I'd stand here 13 years later, today, and say things are better - but they're just a whole lot worse," she told the meeting, which was organised by the Labour Party. "On top of being a whole lot worse, I just think the stories are a lot sadder and a lot more complex as well." Ms Cadman said since 2001 the Wellington region had lost more than 1200 social houses. The region was going backwards "big-time", she said. by Benedict Collins

the Vancouver rat project
I smell a (Vancouver) rat   Recently ACES pest control attended the NPMA meeting in Seattle- Washington State USA.  Dr. Chelsea Himsworth gave an update on the study and how they are following various rat populations of Norway Rats in the downtown Vancouver area. This study is the first study in the world to observe a rat population in the wild, by catching, tagging, releasing and observing their habits. One of the  focuses  of the study is  disease. Not only what type of disease the rats have but can their  disease transfer from   to humans and  can the rats catch diseases from humans too? Here is an introdction to the project from Ada Slivinski.   "Pest control companies in Vancouver have said 2015 was a record-setting year for calls about rodents. Brett Johnson, president of the Structural Pest Management Association of B.C. told the CBC, "There’s been an increase for sure." We don’t know how big an increase because politicians turn a blind eye to the problem  refusing to study, let alone address, the issue. Rodents of all kinds carry disease. As much as we’d like to think Black Death or rat-associated Bubonic Plague outbreaks will stay in the Middle Ages, unfortunately this disease isn’t bound to the history books. There have been 13 outbreaks of the nefarious disease between 2009 and 2013, including places like Peru, China and as many as 600 cases in Madagascar. Dr. Chelsea Himsworth, lead researcher for the Vancouver Rat Project, said there is a pronounced knowledge gap in Canada when it comes to rats. The rodent outbreak is not being taken seriously by political leaders as a potential health hazard. Mayor Gregor Robertson has said in the past that the increased rodent sightings couldn’t possibly be linked to the city’s mandatory food scrap composting program, despite the fact that the jump seemed to happen around that time. Proponents of the green bins argue that nothing has changed except the location of food waste  what was previously in garbage bins has just been moved to another container. But the containers are filled and re-filled with nothing but rotting food, tough to clean, and their contents are seldom bagged, making them attractive to rodents. Last year, TransLink received complaints about infestations in SkyTrain stations and rats took over the playground of a local daycare  located adjacent to several green bins  to the point where children were no longer allowed to play outside. Himsworth has found that Vancouver rats are infected with a number of zoonotic pathogens, including the superbug Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)  never-before seen in rats. Her research shows the rats are likely contracting it from infected people in the Downtown Eastside and though the superbug hasn’t yet made the leap back from rats to humans, that transmission pattern is not unlikely. Himsworth said rats can be a sponge, soaking up bacteria like E. coli through their contact with human sewage. It all sounds pretty scary. So why aren’t officials taking this concern seriously? When interviewed by the Georgia Straight, a spokesperson for Vancouver Coastal Health said there was no cause for concern and that disease from rats was unlikely to be transmitted to humans. HealthLink BC’s recommendation for getting rid of rodents is to kill them with traps, but the Vancouver Rat Project found this strategy could actually make the problem worse by causing other rats in the area to move. All it takes is one rat carrying the bubonic pathogen to jump on a ship headed to Vancouver to bring the disease here. As for MRSA, our rats already have that. Vancouver rats present a real health hazard, and it’s time politicians woke up to this fact."  by Ada Slivinski.   Dr Bobby Corrighan one of the Worlds foremost experts on rodents recommeneds  that if you want to learn about rodents,  follow this ground breaking-world first study.  ACES pest control  will keep you up to date!

rat exterminator Henderson wasp control murrays bay
Brazen rats ruin riverside picnics    Rats down by the Waikato River are being kept well fed by people enjoying a leisurely bite to eat and leaving their scraps behind. A mischief of rats is going rogue in the city. With the promise of an easy feed from an abundance of rubbish bin leftovers, the natural flight response of Hamilton's riverside rats is being dulled. The brazen little beggars at Hamilton's Swarbrick's Landing are out in broad daylight and have even taken to beckoning for scraps, standing upright on their hind legs while park users dip into their hot chips. It's odd behaviour. Rats are fearful creatures and largely nocturnal but Landcare Research wildlife ecologist John Innes said they are adapting. "Swarbrick's Landing is used for a lot of picnicking and people are leaving a lot of food around and Norway rats, the species people are seeing in the daytime, they respond really readily to food supplies like that," Innes said. There is also no poisoning done in the area. It's too dangerous for users of the neighbouring Day's Park dog exercise area. There are plenty rats there. In a small stand of harakeke and cabbage trees, 10 metres long and wide, about 20 rats come out to feed on a handful of fried potato chips left scattered on the ground. When sparrows flock to the chips, the rats duck for cover. When the birds fly off, the rats emerge. A short walk away, next to the council-owned barbecue, a dog leaps around a low growing bush overlooking the Waikato River. He's unsuccessful in his hunt and leaves. The danger passed and a few minutes later, the rats return. Pest Controller Jason is surprised by the behaviour. "Rats are normally nocturnal and to see they out during the day is unusual," Jason said. "If you see them during the day, usually they are a problem and quite a big problem." "What that means is that there is a large population of them and they are competing for food and they are having to get out for the day and scavenge for food rather than at night time when they prefer." Rats are neophobic critters - they have a fear of anything new or unfamiliar. They have poor eyesight and will avoid anything in their environment - even food - until they feel safe. They are a "huge problem", Jason said, especially near the river which is a migration super highway. Typically, in Hamilton, he'll install a two month pest control programme for Hamilton home owners. If you live by the river, it's year-round monitoring. "[Two months] is fine for other parts of town but by the river, they are rampant so you just can't get away with that. "As soon as you get the ones there and take the bait stations away, they just move in." The Swarbrick's rats have become comfortable said Hamilton City Council parks and open spaces manager Sally Sheedy and this spring has seen an upswing in residents contacting council about it. In response, Sheedy is introducing a new weapon in the war of the rodents - chocolate. "We'll be using, in assistance with [Waikato] Regional Council, some Goodnature traps in that location," Sheedy said. "They have nice chocolate sauce applied and the rats go for that and they are, obviously, killed in that trap but it doesn't pose an issue in terms of an actual toxic bait." So if dogs find a rat carcass and eats it, they won't ingest poison, she said. Council have started a pest control operation in 11 city parks - something they do on a six-monthly and yearly rotation. Onukutara Gully, which runs from Porritt Stadium at Chedworth to Wairere Drive near Hukanui Primary School, is one of the areas to be hit but is a special case. Predator-Free Hamilton have been radio monitoring the movements of ship rats and Norway rats in the gully and a toxin free trapping programme begins there on Saturday. Monitoring found most rats have a range of about 100m to 150m and while there is no data on how many rats there are in Hamilton, Sheedy said "they are not very abundant". "What you are seeing isn't an explosion in rat population, it is just the population that we have." It's a big population, though, said Waikato Regional Council biodiversity officer Dave Byers and conditions are ripe for breeding. "There are quite a lot of rats around at the moment and that's come about, mainly from the mild winters, the last two winters that we've had," Byers said. And, like the beech and rimu forests in the South Island where rats are converging in epic numbers, Waikato is experiencing a 'seed mast' where an abundance of seed drops from flowering trees. "If there is lots of food, there will be lots of breeding going on as well."   Rat facts  A group of rats is called a mischief. Norway rats can have up to 22 babies in one litter but usually they have 8 or 9 babies. Rats constantly gnaw to wear their teeth down as their incisors keep growing at a rate if about 11-14cm in one year.   by ELTON RIKIHANA SMALLMAN

Rat control new lynn cockroach eradication newmarket
Rats on the rampage in inner city growth areas   Rats are on the rampage in Sydney's inner suburbs with the proliferation of new cafes and booming rental market creating perfect conditions for the rodents to flourish. Older suburbs close to the city where landlords fail to carry out maintenance and residents dump their rubbish in plastic bags are creating havens for Sydney's two major rat species. Businesses and residents are reporting sightings of rats, including brazen appearances in full view on streets and in backyards. Some residents complained of rats almost the size of cats, but rat experts say the brown or sewer rat grow to a maximum of 25cm with a tail of similar length, while black or roof rats are smaller. Stuart Jackson, who has been treating rat infestations in Sydney for 40 years, told that an increase in demand for rat control has seen him called out to outbreaks at commercial and residential properties. "It has always been consistent but there is an upsurge in calls particularly in the older suburbs like Surry Hills, Haymarket and in the city itself," Jackson, of Expert Pest Control, said. "There's the old dunny lanes, neglected properties with inadequate waste control, poor hygiene standards and places where they dump their rubbish in plastic bags in the backyard. "Plastic bags are no deterrent to a rat and the waste goes down a drain where [the brown rat] Rattus Norvegicus live. "I was called to an advertising agency where they have meetings in the boardroom and watch the rats running up the wall from the property next door. "A lot of it could be easily prevented, but you have $2m to $3m properties in the inner city next to a rental where the landlord doesn't care and where there's broken pipes or tiles and the rats burrow underneath. "And there are restaurants which just don't dispose of their waste properly. I won't name them." Jackson described a "horror" scene he once witnessed in an inner city restaurant where he was called in and found 50 rats clustered around the hot water service under the stairs close to the restaurant's garbage compactor room. He has also seen rats running through serving kitchens and under sinks in high density restaurant areas like Haymarket, in Sydney's CBD. Ecologist and rodent plague expert Professor Mathew Crowther of Sydney University said that while current rat numbers in Sydney "could not be called a rat plague, there are more rats than people in Sydney and we have created the perfect habitat for them". Brown rats live in drains, sewers, under pavers and in dry areas under piles of wood or furniture discarded in yards. Black rats, Rattus Rattus, are the rodents that can be heard scurrying around in roofs at night when they venture out to feed on garbage, snails and other bugs on shrubs, citrus fruit and even macadamia nuts. "They are very agile and live in wall or roof cavities. They forage at night and you can hear them when you are lying in bed," Jackson said. "Rattus Norvegicus will burrow and excavate under foundations and broken concrete and then come out at night as scavengers. Occasionally you will see one running along your back fence. "You can do everything possible yourself like repairing holes and removing rubbish, but if your neighbours don't anything the problems with rats on your property will continue." Rats, which arrived in Australia by ship with the First Fleet have become endemic from the harbour's edge up to Oxford Street in Sydney's Darlinghurst and beyond. In 2014, it was reported to a United Nations aged care conference that hordes of rats were "moving up the hill" as wharves were being knocked down for the Barangaroo harbourside development, and relocating to Millers Point where residents were using towels to barricade their bedrooms to keep them out. But Prof Crowther said rats lived in every town and city in Australia, in relative density to human occupation and food supply. "In Sydney you will see them around the parks at night, near the Harbour, in tunnels, around Central Station," he said. "There's a localised population near the law building on the University of Sydney campus, wherever there's food and waste. "They'll eat pet food and bird seed, protein fats and grains, if you leave that out." Prof Crowther said rat predators included birds, cats and snakes, and that in less built up areas of Sydney large rat populations encouraged brown snakes, the world's second most venomous land snake. "Rats are very destructive. They live for about two years and they will chew through anything. "We haven't had a rat plague for a while. We have mice plagues mainly in the wheat belt area. "In a plague they will eat more grain and reproduce with more and bigger litters, and eat and spoil our foods until the plague peaks and falls away, or they are poisoned." Diseases spread by rats have included the rare infection rat lungwort, which can be fatal, and bubonic plague, which was brought to Australia by a genuine rat plague in Sydney in the early 1900s. But rats currently living in Australian cities do spread salmonella, E coli and leptospirosis, a bacterial disease causing lead to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure and even death. The diseases can be contracted through touching or eating  rat urine and faeces. Canadian researchers who studied rat droppings found bacteria that cause diarrhoea and intestinal diseases, and identified 18 new viruses which potentially can infect humans. Dr Cadhla Firth, a CSIRO scientist who studies the behaviour of rats and other vector borne disease spreaders, said that the more dense urbanisation became, the humans living in them would have to deal with rats and other animals. "The more we move into cities, the more we are going to have to start wrestling with the animals and bugs that live among us," Dr Firth said. The City of Sydney said rats were "an ongoing issue across Sydney" and "evidence from the City's rat baiting program doesn't indicate any recent increase in rat numbers". "However, it is not uncommon to see more rats in summer as people spend more time outdoors," a council spokesperson said. "There's no accurate way to count the number of rats in the city. "Winter is the most active time of year for rats feeding. Generally, rats will seek out food and water close to the nest or in familiar locations." The council advised property owners to remove overgrown vegetation and accumulated rubbish which might attract vermin. HOW TO REDUCE THE RISK OF RAT INFESTATION ● Do not leave out pet food or bird seed ● Don't leave rubbish outside in bags ● Store rubbish in metal or heavy plastic bins ● Remove piles of timber, old furniture or debris from backyards ● Patch or seal holes in your garage or basement and repair broken tiles and concrete. -

Mass rat sterilisation
Mass rat sterilisation could be the answer to New Zealand's pest free future  ContraPest would make female rats incapable of producing babies. Making rats infertile on a mass scale could be the answer to New Zealand's pest problem.  While the technology to make rodents infertile has been trialled in places like New York conservation minister Maggie Barry said it would likely still be a few years before it could be implemented here.  Barry floated the idea at a funding announcement in New Plymouth on Thursday for Taranaki's Mounga Project, which aims to ramp up pest eradication and native bird re-introduction in Egmont National Park over the next 10 years.  Maggie Barry, Jamie Tuuta and Steven Joyce announced four new investors for the Taranaki Mounga Project on Thursday. "There's still a need for 1080, we have to do what we have to do in the meantime to bring predators down to a manageable level," she said.  After pests were culled back with 1080, Barry said it would pave the way for the Department of Conservation to use pest trapping technologies that were only just starting to emerge.  The Taranaki Mounga Project aims to reduce predator numbers in Egmont National Park and ramp up native bird re-introduction. This could include ContraPest, a permanent contraceptive for female rats which when consumed, as a bait, kills off the rat's eggs in the womb and hence its ability to have babies.  These technologies could come in many other forms like self-resetting traps, drones or utilising GPS tracking to kill pests, economic development minister Steven Joyce said.  "Technology is becoming available to actually help us take on this predator free by 2050 challenge," he said.  Joyce said making rats infertile with bait was on the cards for New Zealand, but was still "awhile away" from being implemented here. "With technology like drones or GPS it's going to make it easier to deliver large swathes of predator free areas." However Joyce said it would be "a while yet" before the likes of ContraPest was used in New Zealand.  He said there wasn't a "final pathway" on how to tackle the predator free New Zealand by 2050 goal but believed it was "likely to be doable". "We're not looking for a silver bullet, it will take a range of methods to achieve our goal." As well as announcing future predator control methods Joyce and Barry were in New Plymouth to announce new investors for the Taranaki Mounga Project, on top of the $28 million the crown has put in to get the ball rolling.  DOC, the NEXT Foundation and Taranaki iwi were the primary partners and investors of the project but have now been joined by Shell New Zealand, TSB Community Trust, Jasmine Social Investments and Landcare Research.  Taranaki Mounga Project chairman Jamie Tuuta said all eight Taranaki iwi viewed the mountain as their ancestor and collaboration was key to achieving a pest-free goal for the national park. "So we can enjoy the bird song on Mt Taranaki, because sadly today it is silent," he said.  Tuuta said the project was an ambitious but necessary vision to safeguard Taranaki's ecology for future generations. The first stage of the mounga project was spearheaded by DOC with a non-toxic bait drop last week to draw predators to the area before the poisonous 1080 can be dropped in the same area.  This year's 1080 drop will be the last of DOC's six-yearly drops in the park before it moves to dropping the toxin every three years at half the dosage.  JEREMY WILKINSON

lets here it for rats
Let’s hear it for rats   It’s time to abandon our weird fear of these spectacular creatures   ‘I really, really hate rats,’ Sir David Attenborough has boasted. ‘If a rat appears in a room, I have to work hard to prevent myself from jumping on the nearest table.’ But why? Sir David’s answers are disappointingly feeble. A rat had once run across his bed. They live in sewers. They show no fear and ‘invade the area where you think you are boss’. It is odd that a naturalist can hate an animal for simply doing what animals do — survive — and rather better than most. But almost everything about how humans view rats is illogical. Any social historian looking to prove that an ounce of primitive emotion will outweigh a pound of rational thought should study our creepy rat phobia, as unchanging down the years as it is unthinking. Rats are a miracle of evolution —resourceful, intelligent and generally fascinating. And yet they are loathed more than any other animal on earth. Our attitude is strangely medieval, and we’re proud of it. Even the kindest, most reasonable of people will cheerfully brag of their prejudice. A regular stand-by for tabloids is a story about ‘super rats’, invariably illustrated with a false-perspective photograph. Recently, the Guardian devoted its ‘Big Read’ spot to ‘Man vs Rats’, describing the animals as ‘our perfect nightmare’. There is nothing new in this madness. The French biologist Léon Calmette, in his 1904 paper Declarons la guerre aux rats, announced that if rats weren’t exterminated, they’d bring about the end of humanity. They appear in villainous roles in literature, notably crawling all over the works of Orwell. ‘Of all the horrors in the world – a rat!’ gasps Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four. A famous New Yorker piece called ‘The Rats on the Waterfront’, written in 1944 by Joseph Mitchell, listed the usual hysterical claims: rats kill babies, try to eat vagrants, bite the necks of chickens out of a sheer lust for killing. Apparently, they also ‘snarl’. (Snarl?) According to other reports, there are no limits to a rat’s sins. One claims they are so sex-obsessed that they will mate with a corpse; another that they are motivated by greed and hedonism. A rat-catcher in Morgan Spurlock’s new documentary Rats swears they can read the warning signs on packets of poison. Yet the more I have seen of these astonishing animals, the more I have come to admire them. When I was small, my brother had a pet rat called Whiskers that he kept inside his shirt. It was loyal; when placed on a table and surrounded by humans, Whiskers would sniff everybody’s hands before running up his master’s arm. Years later, my son Xan had a similarly endearing rat called Jaboa. For its last night on earth — it contracted respiratory disease, a common problem among pet rats — it slept on my bed. I see wild rats several times a week and occasionally, when their presence around our hen-house becomes a problem, have to kill them with the help of my brilliant ratting dog (a more humane method than poison or an air-gun in my experience). I admire them, even as enemies. Their reaction when cornered is not to run or attack, but to freeze and try to make themselves invisible. They are lithe, good jumpers and superb swimmers. I am impressed by how they use anything and everything to survive, gaining sustenance from gnawing on old bones, plastic or the glue on books, adapting to whatever a hostile environment throws at them. Such is my fascination, and the irrational fear that rats engender, that I wrote a novel called The Twyning, set in 19th-century London, in which rats are the heroes while humans, except for two abandoned teenage children, are the aggressors. From a position of bias, I think my epic tale — I envisaged it as a ratty War and Peace — would make a more interesting film than Spurlock’s gross-out documentary, which Variety magazine described as a ‘grisly marathon of murder’, pointing out that every trick in the book is used to quicken viewers’ disgust for its subject. Of course, in parts of the world, rats are a menace, eating food humans grow for themselves, causing environmental damage and spreading disease. But none of that explains our paranoiac fear. There is, after all, so much to admire. In a recent experiment, scientists at the University of Chicago discovered that, like humans and intelligent apes, rats have empathy. Given the choice between a chocolate treat and freeing another caged rat — one it has never seen before, incidentally — a lab rat will choose the noble path. Perhaps behind our sinister hatred there lies an uncomfortable truth. Rats are clever and exploit the world around them for their own ends. They are competitive with other species. They are highly sexed and mate all year round. Remind you of anyone? Terence Blacker

big decline in rats
New traps trigger big decline in rats at Pelorus   Gas triggered traps are being used to trap rats at the Bat Recovery Project at Pelorus Bridge scenic reserve. Gas-powered traps have triggered a "dramatic decline" in rat numbers in the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve, conservationists say. The 60 automatic traps, which can automatically reset up to 24 times, were introduced to the Pelorus catchment five weeks ago.  The Pelorus Bridge reserve is home to a critically endangered population of long-tailed bats.  Te Hoeire Bat Recovery Project manager Debs Martin said there had been a big drop off in rat density in the area where the traps had been used compared to the control area  within the Pelorus catchment where no traps were placed. The team had not collated exact numbers, but would have more data after the next check up in mid-October.  Martin said the lure inside the trap only needed replacing once every six months, making it an economic way of pest trapping. Once the animal is killed, it falls from the trap, which is then reset. One of the Goodnature A24 traps cost $130. That was more expensive than other traps, but they needed frequent checking.  "Cost weighed up against effectiveness and need for frequent checking, especially during a rat plague," Martin said. It took the team of three members two hours to attach the traps to trees spaced 100 meters apart in the 200 hectare trapping area. The traps were placed 900mm up trees so weka were not caught.  "Weka are really inquisitive ... but the weka would have to fly up and extend their necks straight up to get into it.  "They're just not that agile." Martin said they did not know exactly how many bats were in the catchment, but estimated there were at least two or three colonies.  The bat recovery project aimed to create a predator-free Pelorus catchment that would help other species as well. "We know that the bats really like the Pelorus catchment, we don't really know why, although we suspect there's still some big old big grand trees that are in that catchment and there's so much that hasn't been cut down." Martin said the group would eventually like to see the reintroduction of some species, such as the blue duck, kākāriki, robins, toutouwai and ultimately the great spotted kiwi.   MARION VAN DIJK

worlds most deadly
What do Odysseus and TV wildlife expert Steve Irwin have in common? (Stingray barbs killed them both.) What is the most venomous creature in the world? (The Australian box jellyfish.) What does it feel like to get high on cobra venom? (Weird.) Could bee venom cure Lyme disease? (Possibly.) These are some of the fascinating stories Christie Wilcox tells in Venomous: How Earth's Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry. When National Geographic caught up with her by phone in Hawaii, she explained why the king cobra packs such a punch; how snakes may have helped our ancestors evolve bigger brains; and why the Gila monster’s venom may hold the key to the treatment of diabetes and even Alzheimer’s. [Find out about the medical potential of venom.] Let’s cut to the chase: What are the five most dangerous venomous creatures in the world? Oh, I love that question! [Laughs uproariously] You have to give snakes their due because overall snakes kill 90,000-plus people a year and disable countless more—though the sad fact is we don’t exactly know [how many] because a lot of these places are poor and don’t have medical systems that allow good reporting. The main places people are dying are Africa, Sri Lanka, India, and South America. In Africa there is a snake bite crisis because not only do they have deadly snakes that cause significant morbidity and mortality, but the only good antivenom we used to have is not being made anymore. At the top of the snake list is the king cobra. Compared to other snakes, their venom isn’t particularly potent, but they can inject massive volumes and they’re huge, seven-to-eight-foot-long snakes. Next, I would put the Australian box jellyfish because they can kill in less than five minutes. The Conus geographus, or geographic cone snail, has a 70 to 80 percent fatality rate when it stings but, luckily for us, it’s very rare. I would also include the Lonomia caterpillar because I like the way it kills. [Laughs] It’s this tiny, furry caterpillar, but it can cause massive internal hemorrhaging. That’s just so badass. [Laughs] Number one is the mosquito, though. And I have a specific reason for saying that. When people talk about venomous, they talk about venomous to humans. And by far and away the most dangerous creatures to humans on this planet, other than ourselves, are mosquitoes. By Simon Worrall

pest control north shore rats
It is not the sort of animal that is usually encouraged to thrive on the streets of Southampton. But the authorities are having to wage a war against an infestation of rats in a Southampton community after a local resident has taken to feeding the rodents. Such is his fondness for looking after the animals, he has been dubbed ‘Ratman’ by locals. He has been seen leaving food around the streets and has also been spotted buying up to 20kg bags of wheat, which has been recovered from the rats’ burrows around the Highfield area where the infestation has taken hold. As a result of public health concerns, it is understood the man has been handed a Community Protection Notice in a bid to stop him encouraging the rats. The notice, which is similar to an anti-social behaviour order, means he faces being fined if he doesn’t stop feeding them. Such is the scale of the problem it has led to Highfield Church graveyard being closed to the public. Residents have also been advised to keep their pets indoors as a wide-scale pest control operation, which includes laying poison, has been launched. Rodent specialists will spend the next six weeks putting poison down burrows in order to establish the extent of the network, after previous attempts at getting rid of the rodents failed. Dogs have been used to hunt them down, whilst pest controllers have also used burrow baiting and attempted to cull the rodents. Now a mass programme of laying down poison has begun, with pest controllers warning it could take up to two months to get the problem under control. Southampton city council’s pest control manager Justin Crow said there is ‘an abundance’ of rats in the area centred on the edge of the Common around Highfield. He said: “It’s a difficult situation but it’s got to be resolved. It’s a public health concern and has just got so desperate. “We’ve tried everything from culls to terriers but they don’t achieve a lot – it’s poisoning that will get rid of them. The rats are destroying the ecology of the area.” Pest control have alerted tree surgeons to the problem, as the extensive burrows made by the vermin could damage tree roots making them dangerous. Wardens at the busy Highfield Church – next door to Highfield Church of England Primary School – have closed the churchyard to prevent people using it as a shortcut whilst the pest control programme is underway. The Furzedown Road area of the Common is said to be the worst affected, with extensive undergrowth affording ‘harbourage’ for the rodent population, whilst the network is thought to spread as far as Burgess Road and beyond, with evidence of rats also at Woodmill. According to pest control, the problem in the area is as a result of food being left out for the rats intentionally by the local resident. Rashers of bacon have been seen strewn on pavements whilst he has been seen leaving bird seed near their burrows. One residents, who asked not to be named, said: “It is just awful; it is thanks to him that we now have pest control on our doorsteps. It is disgusting the food he leaves all over the place. No wonder they are thriving.” Furzedown Road resident Clare Mar-Molinero said the rats have even got bigger in size. She said: “It’s been significantly worse this year... they do seem to be bigger. My cats can’t get hold of them - only the smaller ones. “All of our fruit was stolen from the fruit trees in the garden – all our plums, figs and peaches are gone and it can only be rats. I want my garden back now!” by dailyecho