Mischiefs of Rats Live in New York City

One of many New York City rats in action.

If a squirrel is an NYU student’s friendly neighbor, then a rat is the NYU student: intelligent, independent, inventive and desperate — if a bit messy.

Although rats are most common in New York City during the summertime, chances are most NYU students have seen a few of the critters this school year. Just like you, they’re still out in full swing at end-of-summer barbecues and picnics in the park, and they love taking the train to explore other boroughs. And while you may not be getting any this semester, they are: peak mating season for these guys starts in late September. Rats can have a litter of a dozen kittens roughly every two months, and their average lifespan is about a year.

Manhattan, with the highest concentrations of garbage and people, also has the highest concentration of rats. Living (and being hunted) in New York since the earliest European settlers arrived here, resilient is a rat’s middle name: they can survive on as little as an ounce of food a day and can last longer than camels without water. Even though you may have heard that there are four rats to every person in New York City, this is an urban legend; there are probably only two million rats in a city of 8.5 million people.

Rats are prevalent in parks and underground areas, especially at nighttime, but they rarely travel beyond the first floor or basement of a building. If you do see one in your apartment or dorm room, however, do not attempt to corner it — rats become very aggressive under stress. With the ability to tread water for three days and leap over four feet, they are also impressive athletes.

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You may never have to duel with a rat, but they are dangerous in more subtle ways as well. They have the ability to transmit diseases through bites and scratches, the pathogens in their urine and feces and fleas they carry. Among these diseases are the bubonic plague, Salmonella, E. coli, cat scratch fever and
rotaviruses. This list may sound scary, but the Health Department assures New Yorkers that an outbreak requires extreme circumstances which do not exist here now. Still, getting cozy with city rats is probably not a good idea.

Yes, rats are gross, but they are also a defining characteristic of New York City, whether we like it or not. They are the city’s wildlife, an entire underground community that refuses to be taken out, no matter how hard the city tries. Rats are very social animals and don’t want to be pariahs — after all, it isn’t their fault they carry terrible diseases. Rats really aren’t that different from the jaded NYU student: they are street smart, nap through 75 percent of daylight hours, wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything other than black and all they want is their dollar slice.

Email Camille Larkins at [email protected]

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