When most Wisconsin suburban homeowners think of rats, they imagine filthy New York subway stations or Chicago sewers, not their own backyards. While there are definitely more rats in those more densely populated areas, the resourceful rodents are moving into less urban neighborhoods at a high rate.
Fall of 2016 saw public health officials in Madison and Dane County respond to a surge in rat infestations, most of which were reported from the city’s East Side and neighboring communities.
The situation in the Madison area is a perfect example of how rats can adapt to suburban and rural areas, not just older buildings in the city. In a piece by the Wisconsin State Journal, John Hausbeck, Public Health Supervisor with Public Health Madison and Dane County, explains, “While older housing may have more cracks and crevices that could permit the entry of rats, the significant infestations are due to allowing conditions that attract rats, such as food and shelter, and this could happen in any neighborhood, old or new.”
One of the steps taken by Public Health Madison and Dane County was to release a video focusing on how residents can make their homes less appealing to rats. In keeping with the integrated pest control model practiced here at Batzner, its primary focus is the elimination of food and harborage sources.
The areas surrounding Milwaukee have also seen sharply increasing reports of rat problems in the few years that statistics have been taken.
One example is West Allis, where Health Department Environmentalists account a rapid rise in rat sightings. According to an article by the West Allis Now, sightings from 68th Street to the eastern city limits jumped from one or two calls on an infrequent basis back in 2010 to 127 in 2013. Additionally, there appears to be a definite trend of westward expansion for rat populations, as the article also states that the area from 68th Street to 92nd Street went from one or two calls a year to at least one call a week. This includes calls from areas that had never previously had a complaint.
Our service team has experienced this firsthand, as Service Manager Jason Ganas explains, “We have had a definite increase in the number of rat control jobs in the areas around Milwaukee. The most notable would be in West Allis and Wauwatosa, but we have seen particularly bad cases as far as Brookfield.”
Check out these recent cases of rats affecting people in the Milwaukee Area to see just how problematic the growing population can be: Rats Popping up in Milwaukee Neighborhood, Terrier Finds Big Rat in Milwaukee, Rats Drive West Allis Woman out of Backyard, Milwaukee Neighborhood Grocery Store Infested With Rats
Why Rats Relocate
There are several factors causing the spread of the rat population in Wisconsin, some of which are due to rat biology and behavior and others because of human action (or inaction). Ganas explains, “Rats are highly territorial, and a dominant male will get the best location for his burrow. A burrow is usually within 100 feet of a food and water source, so there are limits on how many potential nesting locations exist in a given area. As the population increases, it forces other rats to search farther away for their own place to nest.” Their ability to adapt to new environments and high reproductive rate also means that once a population has been established, it is very difficult to rid an area of rats completely.
Dan Stawicki, another Batzner Service Manager, notes the role people play in causing the spread of rats. “Construction projects, like the work being done on I-94 and the Zoo Interchange, uproot existing burrows and cause rats to seek out new harborage sites. The vibration alone can cause nearby burrows to be abandoned. Unfortunately, residential areas often provide the new homes they are looking for, offering harborage under cracked concrete slabs in garages and other structures and food sources in uncovered garbage bins.”
Rat Control- A Group Effort
Another reason why controlling the rat population is so difficult is confusion over who is responsible for handling it. There is often finger-pointing between city government, property owners/tenants, and pest control providers, as each feels the other parties are not pulling their weight. This issue exists even in areas that have been dealing with rat infestations for decades, so one can imagine the potential trouble the respective parties are in for in areas experiencing rat infestations for the first time. Ultimately, successful rat control comes from a coordinated effort between all three groups.
What You Can Do
Residents of urban, suburban, and rural areas are often unaware of just how much food and shelter their homes can provide to rats. Spilled birdseed, fruit fallen from apple trees, and even dog waste can feed rats in the suburbs, and stored grain and livestock waste provide food for rats living in the country. As a homeowner, you can help prevent rats from moving into your neighborhood by restricting their access to these food sources.
Additionally, make sure to keep up to date on how to rat-proof your home and share the information with your neighbors. We will continue to do our part in educating both city officials and homeowners on how to prevent and control rats and other pests on our Facebook, Twitter, and blog.