When Cornell’s NYS IPM story — based on IPM entomologist Matt Frye’s research — hit the news a week ago, it made quite a splash. Back then, nearly 20 media outlets told the story: how Frye found over 6,500 lice, mites, and fleas on 113 rats live-trapped in New York City.
And — that among them were over 500 Oriental rat fleas, fleas capable of carrying the infamous bubonic plague. No, none of those 500 fleas harbored the plague. Still — “If these rats carry fleas that could transmit the plague to people,” says Frye, “then the pathogen itself is the only piece missing from the transmission cycle.”
Below, an updated list of the outlets that ran the news. Now the BBC — the British Broadcasting Corporation — also has plans to tell the story. And here, a one-minute video that shows how city rats make a living.
Norway rats are your consummate “where you go, we go also” species, being as well adapted to urban living as we are. Meaning that the diseases we’ve blamed on them are most likely grounded in reality.
Yet widespread instances of the most spectacular of those diseases — the Black Plague that devastated much of the Old World long ago — have virtually disappeared. Is it because this dread disease’s vector, the Oriental rat flea, also disappeared? No. Rats aren’t the only animals that harbor these fleas. In North America the plague lives on in the unlikeliest of places — in the American Southwest among ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and the rat fleas they harbor, infecting roughly 10 people each year.
A Norway rat drops down a grate in New York City, looking for food or shelter. A flea that finds food and shelter on such a rat is capable of transmitting the plague pathogen.
But what about our cities? If New York City could serve as a model organism, so to speak, then new research published this week from a Cornell and Columbia University collaboration means we’d best keep tabs on city rats and the tiny critters that call them home. NYS IPM’s urban entomologist Matthew Frye and his colleagues in New York live-trapped 133 Norway rats. Using a fine-tooth rat comb, Frye found about 6,000 parasites, including lice, mites — and more than 500 rat fleas.
The good news first: none of the fleas carried the plague. But they did carry other nasty diseases.
It’s unlikely the plague has gotten a toehold in New York. Even so, Frye is alarmed. “If these rats carry fleas that could transmit the plague to people,” says Frye, “then the pathogen itself is the only piece missing from the transmission cycle.”
What to do to help keep it that way? Since avoiding fleas is just as tricky as avoiding rats, core IPM practices are key. They include prevention (caulking and installing snug-fitting door sweeps, for instance) and careful sanitation (cleaning or removing every possible food and water source — indoors and out — be it spilled dog chow and soda pop, or leaky pipes and discarded deli containers).
Once you’ve gotten the rats out — then what? After all, those fleas and the diseases they vector are a troupe of “where you go, we go also” species on the micro level. “It’s not that the parasites that get left behind can infest our bodies,” Frye says. “But they can feed on us while seeking other rats to infest.”
Frye’s research was part of an earlier project looking at the pathogens that rats themselves — not just their fleas — could carry. That study noted a disturbing number of viral and bacterial diseases rats fall prey to — including a handful that could spell grave consequences for us.
December 5, 2014
by Joellen Lampman Comments Off on Dealing With Wildlife and the Laws That Protect Them
When we think about pests, bugs and mice are the first things that typically come to mind. But what if larger critters such as squirrels, bats, woodchucks, deer, or pigeons become troublesome? IPM works for them too. You must, however, be aware of laws that apply to nuisance wildlife and how they might affect your IPM plan.
In New York, the regulatory players involved are the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation(all species) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (migratory birds and federally endangered and threatened species). Through these agencies, every wildlife species in the state has a legal classification. What is of upmost concern is determining whether your nuisance is classified as “unprotected” or “protected.”
Legal Classification: Unprotected
Unprotected mammals include shrews, moles, bats (except Indiana bats, which are federally protected), chipmunks, woodchucks, red squirrels, flying squirrels, voles, mice, and Norway rats. Unprotected bird species include rock doves (feral pigeons), house sparrows, and European starlings.
An unprotected species can legally be taken by the property owner at any time of year and by any means as long as other laws (i.e., pesticide regulations, firearm discharge ordinances, trespassing laws, etc.) are not violated. The DEC defines taking as pursuing, shooting, hunting, killing, capturing, trapping, snaring or netting wildlife and game, or performing acts that disturb or worry wildlife.
Some might consider it too cruel to take an animal and decide that capturing your nuisance pest with a live trap is best. Before heading to the hardware store, recognize that you cannot release an animal off your property without a permit. An unprotected animal can be released on the same property where it was captured or must be killed and buried or cremated.
Legal Classification: Protected
Canada geese are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but there are still things you can do to manage them. Harassing them (such as with dogs or lasers) does not need a permit. Interfering with their nest — such as addling their eggs — does need a permit. When in doubt, contact the DEC. Photo: Joellen Lampman
For some protected species, if an individual animal is causing damage (not merely being a nuisance), it can be taken by the property owner. Mammals that fall under this category include opossums, raccoons, weasels, and gray squirrels. (Skunks may legally be taken if they are only a nuisance, even if they are not causing damage.) But the animal, dead or alive, cannot be transported off the landowner’s property without a nuisance wildlife control permit obtained from the DEC.
A few mammals (including bear, beaver, deer, mink, and muskrat), most birds, and (currently) all reptiles and amphibians are not only protected but cannot be captured or removed from the property without special case-by-case permits.
Animals with a legal hunting or fur trapping season can be taken as long as the proper hunting or trapping license has been obtained.
Nuisance Wildlife Control Permits
Nuisance wildlife control permits are issued to people who have gone through the prescribed application process. These permits allow protected species to be taken in any number, at any time, and from any location — with permission of the landowner — within the state. Permits must be renewed annually. Private nuisance wildlife control operators, pest control operators dealing with nuisance wildlife, municipal animal control officers, and some wildlife rehabilitators must obtain the proper permits.
So you’re thinking of a trip south, camper or boat in tow, or maybe a little winter getaway to your cabin in the North Country. For “no surprises” trip prep, take advantage of every spell of mild weather to make sure you’ve
kept rodents from settling into cozy quarters (or disinvite those that have)
removed those enticing extras that make critters do their best to bust through your defenses
Here’s the IPM approach. Put on your overalls, grab a flashlight, and crawl under
Your cabin is more secure with mesh pushed into critter entry points.
your camper or into the crawl space under your cabin — or climb up a ladder to take a closer look at your eaves and loose siding as well as cable entry points. Plug every likely entry point and with something like copper stuff-it — a fine wire mesh that helps keep critters out — or by caulking those places where propane pipes, internet cables, or phone or electric lines come in.
Be careful. If need be, hire an electrician. Even turning off the breaker box doesn’t mean dangerously high voltage won’t zap you.
This can be tricky work, because rodents can squeeze through what look like impossibly small spaces. Sometimes they’ll pull out your wire mesh, but caulk worked into the mesh — or a spray foam that expands into it — will help keep the mesh in place. So look again. And know that foam alone won’t do the trick — even if the can says it deters mice, chipmunks, and the like.
Besides critter-deterrent foam, here’s what else won’t provide long-term control: ultrasonic devices and boom boxes blasting rap music (yes, it’s been tried!). Sure, you might get short-term control — but critters acclimate to predictable or constant sounds. And forget that persistent rumor that mothballs (or dryer sheets) will deter them. For one, it’s illegal to use mothballs this way. And any seeming deterrence is probably illusory.
If rodents haven’t made your camper or cabin home yet — if you don’t see mouse poop, for instance — count your blessings and roll up your shirtsleeves. Besides the obvious (boxes of crackers, say, or plastic jars of peanut butter), remember that crumbs beneath the couch cushions or inside drawers and hard-to-reach corners attract critters with sensitive noses.
Because rodents appreciate a cozy place to curl up as much as you do (and because prevention is key to good IPM), stash everything from paper napkins to blankets and pillows in tightly sealed containers. If you can, empty the drawers; leaving them open makes the space less of a hidey-hole — and less appealing.
Occasionally you might do such a good job on the outside, you actually trap a critter that was already inside your walls when you began. Though it seems harsh, the best thing is to place snap-traps at those key exit points you discovered during your inspection — and check them as often as you can. (Animals caught in live traps and released elsewhere often end up in some other critter’s territory, and the consequences aren’t all that pretty.)
Traps come in two sizes: mouse and rat; rat traps work also for squirrels and chipmunks. What size to put out? If you hear noise at night it’s probably a mouse or rat. If during the day, it’s probably a chipmunk or squirrel.
August 21, 2014
by Matt Frye Comments Off on Baiting for Mice, Rats? Try String!
Peanut butter is a staple in managing mice and rats, especially in residential settings. It’s easy to apply to traps, it stays fresh for several days — and a jar of peanut butter has a long shelf life. But peanut butter isn’t always your best bet. Because sometimes that peanut butter is a magnet for other pests — think cockroaches and ants. Besides, a large rodent population might have a wide range of food preferences. And for some, peanut butter might not be at the top of the list.
For those situations, here’s a trick that could help — bait those traps with string! String? Here’s why:
String tied to the paddle of a snap trap is a baiting technique that doesn’t feed other pests.
Females can give birth to six to eight litters of pups throughout the year, though they breed more often when it’s warm. They work hard at building nests for their young, and among their favorite nesting materials is string. So just tie a short piece string or dental floss tightly to the paddle of a snap trap and there’s your bait. Be sure to loop your string closely around the base of the paddle. And this is one bait that’ll never spoil.
Are subway rats really the size of house cats? Are there American cockroaches or “waterbugs” as big as your hand? Fortunately, neither is true. But a 2012 study offers insight as to why those beliefs exist.
First, some background. Whenever I give a presentation about structural pests, I like to bring some specimens along for show and tell. Invariably, as I open up a box of pinned insect specimens someone says, “I’ve seen cockroaches twice that big!” Outwardly I might act surprised, but that’s because I’m thinking, “Hmm. I’ve been in some sketchy places and seen some nasty things, but the American cockroach is usually about 1.5 inches long, and the average Norway rat is about 16 inches from nose to tail and weighs about 12 ounces.”
Real-world American cockroaches — note their reddish-brown color — measure about 1.5 inches.
Sure, there are exceptions — some can be smaller, others larger, but a three-inch-long cockroach? Surely there’s an explanation.
Then one day I stumbled on a post by ABC News: “Spiders Appear Bigger When You Fear Them” — and it all started to make sense. According to an Ohio State study, being scared can cause an individual to exaggerate the size of the object they fear. A rat racing past you on the subway is sure to induce fear, as is a cockroach in your bathroom. But looking at a dead cockroach, pinned in some entomologist’s specimen box? That’s not so scary.
A challenge: next time you see a critter that would normally make you afraid, take a closer look. You might find that your perception of their size more accurately represents their true size — which in all cases is large enough!
Snout to tail, your average Norway rat is 16 inches long and weighs in at about 12 ounces. Cats? A healthy weight for a small breeds is around 5 pounds; the very largest, 18 pounds.
May 28, 2014
by Matt Frye Comments Off on Identifying Your Pest – with Poop?
Whether you are dealing with a pest problem, having car trouble, or trying to figure out who stole the cookie from the cookie jar, your job starts with an investigation — the information-gathering step where you search for clues. In pest management, inspection is the first and most important step toward addressing an issue, helping you discover what pest species are present — and why.
Here’s the scene: you’re inspecting a dark basement and happen upon some droppings. If from a rodent, your next step might be to look for more droppings, sebum trails (oily marks) that show where rodents have traveled, or chew marks. These clues help you determine how rodents are entering the building and where they are finding food, water and shelter. But fi the droppings are from cockroaches, your inspection will shift to looking for wet, decaying organic material and harborage areas.
For pest ID at work or at home, your eyes are your best tools — helped, perhaps, by a magnifying lens.
But how do you tell the difference between the droppings?
Rodents dropping are relatively smooth and often pointed or tapered at one end Mice are smaller critters, so their droppings are typically less than ¼ inch long, whereas rat droppings are larger than 1/3 inch. Rodent droppings might also contain hair — rodents swallow it as they groom themselves.
Like other insects, cockroaches have structures called rectal pads that are used to absorb water and nutrients before their poop leaves their bodies. The orientation and shape of these pads gives insect droppings unique shapes. In the case of cockroaches, droppings appear to have ridges. For more information, see this pictorial key to rodents.
By conducting a thorough inspection and correctly identifying pests, you can develop an action plan to reduce their populations and prevent them from coming back.
May 13, 2014
by Matt Frye Comments Off on Top 5 Pest Hangouts — in Your Kitchen
Spring! Time to fling open the windows, plant some flowers — and begin the annual tradition of spring-cleaning. But are you getting to all those places where pests find food, water, or shelter? Householders tend to overlook these five places. And they could be just the spots where pests come for a free meal or to catch a few zzzz’s.
Clean these often:
The Stove Top — or rather, the space right beneath it
Most cooks wipe down the top of the stove when they’ve fixed a meal. But what about the space under the stove lid? Here, spilled liquids, crumbs and other food materials can accumulate out of sight, providing food for rodents, cockroaches, and other pests.
Crumbs, spilled coffee, whatever — they’re easy to see and clean up on your countertops. But food particles and liquid can accumulate on the undersides of ledges too. So while you’re at it, wipe down those ledge undersides.
Toasters and toaster ovens are great hidey-holes for crumbs. Lots of crumbs. Just be safe when you clean — unplug the toaster. Then pull out the tray and wash it. For even better results, invert the device to shake out the crumbs or go at it with your vacuum cleaner.
Behind the Faucet
Behind the Faucet
The sink is our go-to place for cleaning dishes and utensils. But how often do we remember to clean behind the faucet or around its handles? Here, water and spilled food particles could make for the pest equivalent of the soup kitchen if not cleaned regularly.
The Trash Receptacle
Let’s face it — plastic bags are easy to tear. Too often, something we toss out tears the bag; then the combination of (for instance) food scraps and wet coffee ground means we’ve got stuff leaking out. The solution? Clean the receptacle when you take out the trash.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will stop Norway rats from finding a bite — to eat! With bitter cold and more than 55 inches of snow (and counting), winter in New York City has been memorable. More than ever, rats need to find a way — and their wayfinding signs are unmistakable. Brown droppings cast against a gritty ice pile, footprints in untouched snow, and tunnels leading under dumpsters with the unmistakable sebum trail — grease marks from protective oils on rodent fur — demonstrate that the rat will prevail and that life finds a way.