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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

pest control auckland rats; rat exterminator north shore
Pest control reports high surge in rat infestations in Ireland   reland's rat population has exploded. As many as 4 out of 5 jobs for Pest controllers this season are rat- Fears are growing that Ireland's rat population has exploded, as pest control experts report the number of vermin-infested households across the country has soared to unprecedented levels. Pest controllers have noted an unusual surge in the number of call-outs for rodent-infested homes over the summer months, with as many as four out of five jobs over the season being rat-related. The problem has become so widespread that in recent weeks some pest control companies ran out of specialist equipment and supplies to tackle rat infestations. Experts believe the sharp spike in vermin-related cases is due to a combination of increased building work, a rise in fly-tipping and the mild weather of last winter. Trevor Hayden, who runs nationwide company Complete Pest Control, said his team has been tackling multiple rat-infested households every single day this year, the first time this has happened. "In the past rats have generally been a problem for householders mainly in the winter months, but this year there has been no let-up at all since the start of the year, and that's something that's never happened before,” he said. "We've had rat jobs every single day of the year and over the summer months we've been getting between 15 and 20 calls a day for rats, which represents about 80 percent of our business. You'd normally expect ants and wasps to be the dominant pest in summer, but this time it's been rats that have been causing most havoc.” Hayden, who works with the Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use, has previously voiced his concerns about the increased size of rats, caused by rodents growing immune to conventional poison. He said he believes the spread of vermin in Irish homes has been accelerated by failed home treatments which have helped rats grow bigger and stronger, as well as building up their immunity.   Nick Bramhill

pest control north shore auckland
Black rats rainforest invasion 'speeded by deforestation' By Matt McGrath   Cutting down trees in rainforests facilitates the spread of invasive black rats, a study suggests. The rodents normally avoid mature forests with large trees as they provide little in the way of cover. But researchers, writing in Biotropica, say that logging makes rainforests more attractive for rats as fallen wood contains more insects which they eat. Scientists are concerned that the invading black rats will be bad news for native mammals. Sometimes called the ship rat, these rodents have spread around the world over the past 400 years, often causing the extinctions of native species and spreading disease. Noisy trails Much of their notoriety rests on the idea that black rats were the origin of bubonic plague, although recent research casts doubt on that notion. Black rats have usually avoided older forests as they contain large trees which do not provide much in the way of ground level protection. They also tend to have leafy forest floors which are noisy for rats to run through, as they attract predators. This new study examined the idea that logging of trees in rainforests might facilitate the spread of the rodents. The researchers looked at the island of Borneo where large tracts of the natural forest have been degraded. It had been believed that black rats were confined to urban areas in Borneo. To test the idea that they might spread into deforested regions, the scientists trapped rats from four different species - they then attached small spools of cotton thread to their backs and and tracked their movements. Across the animals in the study, the researchers found that the black rats had the strongest preference for the type of disturbed habitat associated with logging. The increased amount of fallen wood boosted the amount of insects which the rats eat. The logged forests also have more undergrowth which provides better cover. The researchers believe that black rats favour these small changes far more than related species. "Logging creates micro-environments that black rats love, helping them move in," said study co-author Dr Rob Ewers from Imperial College London. "This could be bad news for native mammals who might not be able to compete with black rats for food and resources. It's also bad for the forest, as many small mammals are important seed dispersers, helping rainforest plants to grow, and they are also prey for larger animals." The researchers say that the widespread destruction of forests throughout the tropics may well be multiplying the threat from invasive species like black rats. They believe the presence of these rats could pose a significant threat to nesting birds and other small mammals. The scientists say that the way that logging is done can have a big impact on the suitability of the land for the black rats. The more dead wood that is left behind the better the black rats like it. If felled trees were more accurately cleared as well as the vines that connect the trees, the rat's progress might be curbed.