In the beginning… there were rodents. Humans throughout the world have co-existed with rats, mice, and their relatives since the dawn of recorded time–sometimes peacefully and even reverently, as in the cases of China and parts of India, and sometimes with loathing and hatred, as in the cases of Medieval Europe and modern urban areas like New York City.
Urban rodents eat garbage, carry diseases, and harbor other pests like fleas and microbes. Their droppings are often loaded with infectious diseases like salmonella and leptospirosis (also called Weil’s disease), and when rodents are plentiful, their shed fur and dander can contribute to asthma and other respiratory ailments. Moreover, rodents are seen as bringers of filth and dirt–a house infested with rats or mice is like a body infected with cancer.
Gnawing on the Big Apple
Although several species of rodents make their home in the Northeast, two species in particular have settled in metropolitan New York City: the Norway rat (rattus norvegeicus) and the house mouse (mus musculus domesticus). For the most part, Norway rats and house mice–along with their human hosts–emigrated from Europe over two centuries ago. The boats that carried newcomers seeking freedom and prosperity also carried thousands of furry stowaways seeking nothing more than a plentiful food supply and lots of room to breed.
While their unwitting human chauffeurs struggled to establish homes and livelihoods in the New World, the newly arrived rodents enjoyed a new habitat replete with food and short on natural predators. With few predators to keep their population in check, post-Colonial rodents multiplied furiously. The factors upon which rodent population growth depends–food, water, shelter and lack of disease–are the same environmental conditions human beings need in order to thrive. As the human population in America proliferated, so did the varmints.