Coronavirus: Rats turn to wars and cannibalism to survive virus lockdown in urban areas

Closure of bars and restaurants in lock-down has removed key food source

Louise Hall
Tuesday 14 April 2020 00:32 BST
(AFP via Getty Images)

America’s rats have become so desperate amid the coronavirus outbreak that wars are breaking out amongst their ranks, and some have taken to cannibalism to survive, experts say.

Many think the behaviour has been brought on by social distancing measures enforced as a result of the coronavirus outbreak in the US.

Thousands of non-essential businesses across the country have been forced to close by the novel coronavirus pandemic, including restaurants and bars, cutting off the rodents main supply of food and forcing the population into survival mode, experts say.

“A restaurant all of a sudden closes now, which has happened by the thousands in not just New York City but coast to coast and around the world, and those rats that were living by that restaurant, someplace nearby, and perhaps for decades having generations of rats that depended on that restaurant food, well, life is no longer working for them, and they only have a couple of choices,” Bobby Corrigan, an urban rodentologist, told NBC News.

For those that rely on these more urban sources of nutrition, the change in climate as a result of the virus is forcing many members of the species to take extreme measures.

According to the experts, the few choices that rats have available to them include cannibalism, rat wars, and infanticide.

“It’s just like we’ve seen in the history of mankind, where people try to take over lands and they come in with militaries and armies and fight to the death, literally, for who’s going to conquer that land. And that’s what happens with rats,” he said. “A new army of rats come in, and whichever army has the strongest rats is going to conquer that area.”

However, for the even more desperate of colonies, cannibalism is also on the menu.

“They’re mammals just like you and I, and so when you’re really, really hungry, you’re not going to act the same — you’re going to act very bad, usually,” he said. “So these rats are fighting with one another, now the adults are killing the young in the nest and cannibalising the pups.”

A viral video taken in New Orleans and posted in March showed swarms of rats coming out into the open streets to find food.

“What we have seen is these practices are driving our rodents crazy,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said at a news conference in March, according to the New York Post.

Speaking to Mr Corrigan warned that residents should be taking care to avoid infestations of desperate rodents within their homes.

“We don’t want those animals in our apartments, houses, restaurants or grocery stores because you end up playing disease lottery if that happens,” Mr Corrigan said. “You don’t want anyone of those 55 diseases.”

Ms Cantrell expressed concern for the homeless populations of the city stuck on the streets amidst infestations.

“And what rodents do, they will find food, and they will find water. That puts our street homeless in dire, dire straits. And that’s why I’m so laser-focused on it right now,” she said.

Mr Corrigan assured people that not all areas are set to face an infestation on the same level as New Orleans.

“This is not going to be a case where all of a sudden the rats are doing invasions everywhere,” he said.

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