Before I moved to NYC, I was embarrassingly afraid of rats. Once, I walked out of the back door of my apartment in Chicago and saw a gigantic rat running down the stairs right past me and I screamed so loudly that people on other floors came outside to make sure I wasn’t currently in the process of being murdered. But after about a month here, I stopped shrieking whenever I saw one drinking garbage water on the subway tracks. I stopped jumping whenever they’d run across my path when I was walking anywhere at night. I accepted them as a totally gross, disease ridden, but unavoidable part of the urban landscape. We’d reached a truce, rats and I.
Then Hurricane Sandy hit, and totally fucked with the human/rat equilibrium — but probably not in a way that a ratphobe like me would have hoped.
The massive flooding in the city’s tunnels might have drowned some rats, sure. But what probably happened was that rats — which are excellent swimmers AND climbers, people on upper floors of buildings in neighborhoods that flooded — were displaced. They weren’t killed; they were probably washed to another locale, where they’ll take up residence like the own the joint. Here’s a face-clawingly scary bit from the Daily Beast.
Sure, Sandy caused rat casualties: drowning, getting crushed by floating taxicabs. But most of the rodents will just relocate, said Rick Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Middlebrook, N.Y.
“People and rats together have a corner on the adaptability market,” Ostfeld told The Daily Beast. “We’re amazingly resilient when it comes to these kinds of disasters, and so are our furry little friends. They just do it differently than we do.”
That’s in part because of rats’ somewhat uncanny ability to swim. They’re not particularly built for it, Ostfeld notes, with no webbed feet or muskrat-flat tail to be used as a side-to-side propulsion instrument, and they’re mostly a terrestrial mammal. But, like humans, they’re jacks-of-all-trades.
“They have an all-purpose body design,” Ostfeld said. “They’re pretty good at climbing, swimming, and running around on land.”
God no. Please no.
But the rats, once they’ve swam and climbed into your toilet, where they will wait until you will sit down to bit you in the butt (in my nightmares, it’s either a rat or a snake), aren’t the only ones in the market for new neighborhoods. The deadly, disgusting germs they tote around with them will be making the move, too. More from TDB:
Sandy may actually help the vermin spread diseases, as a matter of fact. It’s a fair wager that most rat populations are skittering around with one or more nasty ailments: leptospirosis, typhus, salmonella, or hantavirus, to name a few. But they don’t carry all of those diseases at once, and those pathogens and viruses are often concentrated among certain populations. What a flood can do is scatter rats (and their food: garbage), relocating them and allowing them to distribute their particular plagues to other rats and, by extension, to people.
So, yeah. Thanks to the hurricane, you might be getting some new neighbors. And antique pathogens.