Orange County rat outbreak keeps trappers hopping – Sun

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Aug 10, 2014 in Rat News | Subscribe

Justin Idle’s business is rats. And business is good.

One evening this week, Idle found himself in the attic of an Orlando home, retrieving rat carcasses from traps. He found nine, and as he was removing them, a live rat skittered by his feet.

Idle, a field technician with Wildlife Solutions in Sanford, isn’t the only one dealing with lots of rats these days. The Orange County Health Department reported this week that it has received about 45 calls concerning rats since the start of February. Usually at this time of year, the department gets just one call every couple of weeks.

Rat calls from the grossed-out and desperate have come from across the county, said Health Department spokesman Dain Weister, including Winter Garden, Maitland, Apopka, Dr. Phillips and the area near downtown Orlando.

There are a number of theories, though no definitive answers, about why rat activity has apparently spiked. Among the possible explanations offered by health and rodent experts:

The weather: Mild temperatures may have allowed more rats than normal to survive the winter. Or perhaps dry conditions are making the creatures look inside buildings for water.

The economy: Foreclosed and vacant homes that are not being maintained provide ideal spots for rats to nest.

Road construction: Projects may be disturbing nests and forcing rats to find new homes. Weister said several complaints have come from the area where work is under way on a ramp at the interchange of state roads 417 and 408 in east Orange.

Whatever the reason, the problem seems to be concentrated in Orange County. Health departments in neighboring counties say they haven’t noticed an increase in rat-related calls.

It’s not the first time that rodents have overrun Orange County. In 1999, mice invaded northwest Orange. The cause of the outbreak remains a mystery, but it may have been linked to the closing of farms for the restoration of Lake Apopka.

Idle, who has 15 open rat cases, has his own theory about the current increase in rat sightings: More people are out of work, so they’re at home when they wouldn’t be ordinarily.

“People are noticing more,” he said. “They find out they have rats and never noticed before.”

Black rats — Rattus rattus, scientifically speaking — are the most common type of rat in Central Florida, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They’re not native but have been widespread in Florida since the 1800s. Despite their name, they’re usually brown or gray. And they’re prolific breeders: Females can have six litters a year, each of about five to 10 young.

Rats have a long-established — and well-earned — reputation as spreaders of disease. According to health authorities, diseases spread by black rats include plague and typhus.

Ed Thralls, an urban horticultural agent for Orange County, has simple advice for those who want to keep rats at bay.

“The rats are only going to be in the house for three reasons: food, shelter and water,” Thralls said.

To keep them out, he recommends keeping pet food — and all dry-food items — sealed, promptly washing dishes and removing food waste, and fixing any water leaks.

“If you have leaky faucets and pipes, and it’s dry outside, rats come inside to find water,” he said.

Outdoors, Thralls said, “don’t throw food out to feed the birds, because around sunset you’ll have rats moving in to pick up the food.”

Rats like citrus, Thralls said, so if you have fruit trees, it’s more likely you’ll attract them. And don’t keep tires or other debris around, because rats love to nest in either.

Experts warn that rats can get inside through a hole the size of a half-dollar.

But even animals as widely feared and disliked as rats have their good points. Their usefulness as lab animals is well known, and animal rescuer Marilyn Chappell of Ocala said domesticated rats make great pets.

“They’re very sweet. They’re just as nice as any other animal if you raise them right.”

But even rat fans have their limits. Chappell wants nothing to do with the wild variety.

“They carry diseases,” she said. “With pet rats, you don’t have the health risk.”

She does, however, have her own mock-apocalyptic theory about why rats are appearing now:

“It is 2012, after all.” or 407-420-5189

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