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CDC says even rats are going crazy from coronavirus lockdowns

Published May 25th, 2020 9:54AM EDT
coronavirus rats
Image: Gerald Herbert/AP/Shutterstock

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  • The CDC warns of coronavirus rat aggression in the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns across the country.
  • Rats and mice that typically feast on our food scraps in or near restaurants and other food establishments have suddenly found themselves struggling to find something to eat.
  • Rodents aren’t believed to carry the novel coronavirus, so the risk that they will spread it is essentially zero, but residents of larger cities may begin to see the creatures acting more bold and aggressive as they struggle to find new food sources.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected our day-to-day lives in some dramatic ways, but we’re hardly the only species that has been forced to adapt to life in this new reality. Rodents that we often consider pests are struggling, too, and the Centers for Disease Control just issued a warning that stressed-out, hungry, desperate mice and rats may exhibit “unusual or aggressive rodent behavior.”

You may like to think your favorite restaurant is rat-free, and perhaps it is, but it’s equally likely that the food scraps and debris left behind by visitors and tossed into heaping garbage cans sustain a whole rodent empire that you never actually see. Now, with restaurants largely closed or severely restricted, those rodents have been forced to be bolder in their search for food.

Animals will go wherever there’s food. If a restaurant or other business that deals in food products suddenly goes quiet, rodents that relied on that food will branch out, searching for new food sources. If those rodents are particularly hungry and desperate, they can become aggressive.

“Jurisdictions have closed or limited service at restaurants and other commercial establishments to help limit the spread of COVID-19,” the CDC bulletin reads. “Rodents rely on the food and waste generated by these establishments. Community-wide closures have led to a decrease in food available to rodents, especially in dense commercial areas. Some jurisdictions have reported an increase in rodent activity as rodents search for new sources of food.”

This new rodent reality can manifest in a number of ways. Depending on where you live, you may see rats or mice openly exploring in areas where you’ve never seen them before, especially at night. It doesn’t mean you should fear that an army of rats will be waiting for you in a dark alley, but just know that the tiny critters that normally eat our trash and leftovers are pretty stressed out right now.

The good news is that while the COVID-19 crisis may be to blame for the increase in rodent activity (and possibly even aggression), rats and mice aren’t thought to be carriers of the virus and won’t make the whole situation any worse than it already is. We’re not in a plague-like scenario here. As a species, humans are fighting against a virus, and the rodents are just trying to find something to eat.

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