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Are the Rats in New York Different Based on Their Location?

New York City’s unsolvable rat infestation concern is an undeniable health hazard as rats are carriers of numerous zoonotic diseases. Regardless of the countless efforts of New York City to tackle their rodent problem, the rats persist, even producing subpopulations in distinct parts of the city.

In a 2017 study, researchers have discovered the distinct rat subpopulations in New York as the uptown and downtown rats prove to be genetically different. 

Does New York Have a Rat Problem?

New York City is known for numerous things. The Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and Times Square are only a handful of the internationally renowned tourist spots in New York. Although famous for its landmarks and eclectic culture, New York is also infamous for the rats it houses. 
In a November 2020 article published in NBC New York, Ray Villeda writes about the encounter of Leonard Shoulders as he was waiting at East 183rd Street and Third Avenue in the Bronx for a bus. It all went downhill from there as the sidewalk beneath him crumbled, leading him to a sinkhole full of rodents the size of puppies. (Source: NBC)

He was immediately surrounded by rats he describes as the size of puppies. New Yorkers’ two great fears: falling through a sidewalk, and rats.

Attorney Nick Bagley

New York City or The Big Apple is home to 2,000,000 rats that seek shelter in sewers, streets, buildings, restaurants, subways, parks, and many more. The infestation is noticeably worsening as rat sightings grew by 40% in the first 11 months of 2021 compared to 2019; the cutting of funds for trash collection and street cleaning services induced the rise of numbers.

The city’s been dealing with its rat infestation for centuries now. Rodents have blessed New York with their presence since the 1700s. In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio initiated a $32,000,000 program to manage their rat problem. Despite workers using more rat traps, rat poison, and even dry ice for rat nests, their rat concern seems to remain unsolvable. (Source: The Guardian

The Rodent Divide in New York

In a 2017 study written by Matthew Combs, a Fordham University graduate student, Combs felt surprised to find that New York City’s rats have a genetic divide based on their location. 

After devoting two years to studying rats by going through various areas in the city and trapping rodents to extract and analyze their DNA, Combs and his group of researchers finds an existing distinction between rats in uptown and downtown New York. The midtown area proves to be a genetic barrier as the rats in the north of 59th street differ from the rats south of 14th street. (Source: Molecular Ecology


More of their findings state that the rodents have their different neighborhoods. In an article for The Atlantic, Combs acknowledge the existence of rat neighborhoods. (Source: The Atlantic)

If you gave us a rat, we could tell whether it came from the West Village or the East Village. They’re actually unique little rat neighborhoods

Matthew Combs

In a different article for NPR, Matthew Combs explains this further, stating that rats from the same colony stay only 200-400 meters of each other, including numerous generations. Combs’ study remains of great benefit as New York’s rodent infestation is a significant health hazard. (Source: NPR)

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