Oh, Rats: Impact of Floods on Subway Rodents Mixed

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This guy might have pulled through. (Photo by laverrue via flickr)

It's not just New York's two-legged population that could take a while to get back to normal.

While most subway riders have other concerns -- like when will the currently truncated service return to normal -- another nagging question remains: how did the subway's rat population fare?

We reached out to the New York City's Health Department, which runs the city's Rodent Academy. Turns out: the answer is mixed.

According to a DOH spokesperson: floods push some rats to the surface, but they also kill lots of rats -- particularly young rats -- in their underground burrows. As a result, floods tend to reduce the overall rat population.

The DOH said it was unclear at this point what affect Hurricane Sandy might have on the rat population, but noted the agency hasn't heard any reports of significant impact.

But other musings about rat society point to a more nuanced view of exactly what kind of rat might have survived. New York Magazine reports that dominant rats may live deeper below ground -- increasing their likelihood of drowning -- while the more "submissive" rats cluster closer to the surface.

Under this theory, the meek rats shall inherit the subway.

Other facts from the NYC DOH:

  • No research has demonstrated an increased health risk from flushed rats from underground.
  • DOH is monitoring for signs of increased rat activity and will respond accordingly.
  • Dead rats do not pose a health risk. "We have not received reports of large piles of dead rats, but we are monitoring this and can take steps to get rid of them as appropriate."
  • There are no reliable estimates of the rat population in NYC.
  • The main rat in NYC is the Norway rat.