The 2015 flood and Hurricane Matthew might have done the Lowcountry a small favor — knocking back a seemingly unstoppable surge in feral hogs and armadillos.
But don’t get comfortable: It brought out the rats.
The other nuisance wildlife will also likely work their way back, wildlife experts suspect.
The hit-or-miss sightings of nuisance species suggest the historic flooding and subsequent storm had a mixed impact on wildlife, depending somewhat on whether the area was tidal or not. At best, it reduced a few pests. At worst, all it did was move most of them to higher ground and closer to human proximity.
‘Driving me nuts’
Rats apparently have been scampering across the Lowcountry.
“Our call numbers are much higher, pretty much all through the region,” said Eric “Critter” McCool of McCool’s Wildlife Bee Control. “Rats right now are probably the number one call for pest control operators.”
Rats showed up in force in the Corey Woods neighborhood in Summerville, among other places. Resident Gary Nossoti and three nearby neighbors have killed more than 25 since the flood, he said, and 12 since Hurricane Matthew in October.
Alarmed by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alert for rats in the state potentially carrying a misery-producing hantavirus, he’s set out traps and a camera.
“They were driving me nuts,” he said. “But I’ve got it under control right now.”
Pierre Rollin, CDC viral special pathogen epidemiologist, said the alert is based on an exchange of pet rats between states, but the virus appears widely in wild rats, too.
The rodents are always around, but floods bring them out, said Craig Manning of the CDC.
Invasives, such as black rats and brown “sewer” rats, are the ones most often seen running along the baseboards and floors of homes, stores and restaurants alike. Brown rats are notorious for coming up out of street culverts after heavy rains.
And like any number of other species, rats that survive a flood move to higher ground and stay there, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other sources. They’re attracted to the moisture in flood-damaged homes.
Besides the “eek” factor, the rodents are considered carriers or transmitters of more human diseases than any other life-form except mosquitoes, according to the Human Society of the United States, and more than 15,000 bites on humans are reported each year.
‘Hammered the hogs’
The 2015 flood apparently did cut into the population of the swamp bottom-loving feral hogs. Reports surfaced afterward of them being washed down rivers and onto barrier islands.
Mark Musselman, land manager of the Audubon Beidler Forest sanctuary in Four Holes Swamp, said the flood “seems to have really hammered the hogs. They are still around but they aren’t anywhere near the numbers they were.”
Hog carcasses were found in Congaree National Park along the Congaree River near Columbia, said park interpretation chief Scott Teodorski.
“It does seem as if the flood had an impact,” he said.
Farther down in tidal waters, it’s less certain. Fleetwood Hassell, who owns property along Cuckolds Creek off the Combahee River, said he hasn’t seen a wild pig in more than a year. But the numbers started to drop before the flood after 43 were shot or trapped in one year.
The hogs have become a $115 million-a-year problem for the state, according to at least one study. They upturn native forest vegetation and plantings, root suburban lawns and drive off native game, according to a recent Clemson University study.
Sam Chappelear, regional wildlife coordinator for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said he suspects the floods did drown some feral hogs, based largely on reports from the park and other landholders. But it likely didn’t make much of a difference for the rapidly reproducing pests with a 150,000-or-so statewide population.
“While I am sure some of the hogs drowned during the flood, especially along the river flood plain, we are still getting plenty of hog damage complaints,” he said. “I know many hogs were killed on the Francis Marion forest during deer season this past hunting season.”
The department is still seeing hog damage in its wildlife management areas, Chappelear said. “So while they may appear to be less in some areas, they could have been pushed to higher ground during the flood and did not move back into the floodplain if they found adequate food and shelter.”
Armadillos, another lawn and garden burrowing nuisance, also were caught in the sweeping flood waters in some spots. Both Hassell and ACE Basin property owner David DeVane said they had seen fewer of the pests since the flood. But again, they can swim, and a lot of them might have just moved to higher ground.
Property owners have reported seeing fewer of the shelled critters along the Ashley River. But they are still turning up on higher land nearby, McCool said. Pest control operators also are getting more calls about them, he said.