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WNYC News

Comptroller: City Too Slow on Rat Complaints

Sunday, October 12, 2014

WNYC
Comptroller Stringer released an audit that urges health officials to improve how it addresses rat complaints.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

What We Can Learn from the Rats of Manhattan

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A biology professor explains how trapping rats in Manhattan to analyze their DNA will help us understand how the rodents move around the city.

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Freakonomics Radio

Freakonomics Radio: The Cobra Effect

Thursday, June 19, 2014

If you want to get rid of a nasty invasive pest, it might seem sensible to offer a bounty. But as we’ll hear in this episode of Freakonomics Radio, bounties can backfire. We look at bounties on snakes in Delhi, rats in Hanoi, and feral pigs in Fort Benning, Georgia. In each case, bounty seekers came up with creative ways to maximize their payoff – and pest populations grew. Host Stephen Dubner talks to Steve Levitt about how incentives don’t always work out the way you’d expect.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Wildlife During the Longer Winter

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

We're not the only species that felt the unusually long and bitter winter. WNYC reporter Stephen Nessen, explains how rats were forced to eat trees. Asian tiger mosquitoes were also hit hard. And new kinds of birds are in the area. What signs of a long winter are you seeing in the city's natural world? Birders, which species are you seeing? Wildlife watchers and gardeners, what other signs of the polar vortex are you observing as spring begins?

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Transportation Nation

After Poisoning And Whacking Doesn't Work, NYC Transit Tries Birth Control On Rats

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A "smoothie" like this will contain rat birth control. (photo by Mary Harris)

(Mary Harris, WNYC) If you're scared of New York City subway rats, hanging out with Paul Jones is a bad idea. He's the man who manages the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's trash rooms, and he knows where the rats are hiding. He even knows their favorite foods.

"They want the good stuff: the Red Bull, the lattes. They love lattes!" Jones said.

Jones has watched the NY MTA try various tactics to rid itself of rodents. They've hired exterminators. They're putting trash in mint-flavored bags, which are supposed to repel pests. They've even reinforced trash room doors to make it harder for rats to make it to the buffet table.

Now they're trying a new approach. The National Institutes of Health has just given Loretta Mayer, and her company, Senestech, a $1.1 million grant to tempt rats into consuming birth control.

Mayer's product, which is still in development, works in the lab by speeding up menopause in the female rat. She's quick to add that it doesn't affect human fertility because the compound is rapidly metabolized.  "It’s just like if you take an aspirin for a headache it'll numb your headache, but if you give an aspirin to your cat it would kill it," she said.

Senestech researchers (photo by Mary Harris/WNYC)

At the moment, she's trying to find the ideal flavor to appeal to the New York subway rat's palate. In Asia, she's flavored her bait with roasted coconut, dried fish, and beer. Here, she's  considering lacing the bait with pepperoni oil. It will be mixed into a bright pink smoothie--not solid food--because underground rats can find food easily but are constantly searching for liquid.

Mayer isn't the only scientist chronicling the lives of New York's rats. At Columbia University, Professor Ian Lipkin has been sending teams of researchers into the subways to collect rodent samples. He's trying to discover what kind of germs they're carrying.

"They’re little Typhoid Marys running around excreting all kinds  of things that are problematic for humans," Lipkin explained.

Lipkin then puts the risk into perspective: he said he worries more about shaking hands with someone with a bad cough than he does about crossing paths with a subway rat. But he wants to know what the rats are carrying.

"We have every year a whole host of diseases that occur in people--encephalitis, meningitis, respiratory diseases, diarrheal diseases--that are largely unexplained. And one potential mechanism by which people become infected is through exposure, directly or indirectly, to infectious agents that would be carried by rodents," Lipkin said. "We need to know what kind of bugs these animals carry so we can respond more effectively to them."

Back underground, Mayer's research team is gathering results from the initial taste tests. They're encouraged: the rats seem to be enjoying their smoothies.

But Paul Jones has seen exterminators come and go. And even the bluntest of weapons has failed to drive the rats off. He keeps blunt objects in the trash rooms so he can lay a good whack on the aggressive rats.

Paul Jones holds the keys to all of New York City's trash rooms. And he knows where all the rat nests are. (Photo by Mary Harris/WNC)

"We've hit them with shovels and pitchforks - they just flip over and run off. And they don't go away," he says with a sigh. "They're very hard to die."

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WNYC News

City Rats Displaced by Sandy Moved Inland, Residents Say

Thursday, February 07, 2013

If there's no such thing as bad press, it's a good week for rats in New York City.

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Transportation Nation

Oh, Rats: Impact of Floods on Subway Rodents Mixed

Thursday, November 01, 2012

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.

 

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Transportation Nation

How to Clean Subway Stations: Remove Trash Cans

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The NY MTA will expand a rodent-fighting pilot program to eight new subway stations after initial success from removing trash cans on platforms.

The transit agency removes 40 tons of garbage every day (about 14,000 tons annually). Subway platform trash cans are one juicy part of that. The part that is most attractive to crawling critters. The MTA runs nighttime trains that collect filled trash bags from stations, but while as many as 75 garbage bags wait for pick up platforms, the rats feast.

So to remove the rodent magnets, the MTA has been testing a plan since October to simply remove the platform trash cans all together and replace them with signage asking riders to take their waste with them. Pack it in, pack it out, like camping. And it works. Even if riders complain about it, it reduces litter ... and now the MTA is saying, rodents too.

At the two stations where the pilot has been running since last fall, trash bag usage fell by a half to two-thirds. "Cleanliness improved and there was no increase in track fires," the MTA said in a statement.

No ten stations will get the no-trash can treatment. MTA:

In order to get a better understanding of the impact of removing trash cans from stations, NYC Transit will begin a larger pilot for six months at eight more stations – two in each of the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens – to determine if this program should continue.  The locations were chosen to represent average-sized stations both elevated and underground.  Notices were posted in all affected stations beginning Monday, August 20.  The eight additional stations are:

Bronx:

  • 238th Street 1 station
  • East 143rd Street 6 station

Manhattan:

  • 57th Street F station
  • Rector Street 1 station

Brooklyn:

  • 7th Avenue FG station
  • Brighton Beach Q station

Queens:

  • 111th Street A station
  • 65th Street MR station

 

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Chief Apologizes for Rat Comments

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

(photo by: laverrue)

NY MTA Chief Joe Lhota is apologizing for comments he made about Harlem lawmaker Bill Perkins.  But Lhota remains against a bill from Senator Perkins, that would ban eating in the subway.

The proposed law would fine people who eat in the subway up to 250-dollars.  Lhota said in the New York Times that as a legislator, “Perkins does nothing but talk and talk and talk, and he does nothing.”

In a statement, the M-T-A chief apologized to Perkins and called him an excellent legislator.  Lhota also said he shares Perkins commitment to addressing the problem of rats on the subway.

But in the article, Lhota also linked the rat problem to minority children.  Lhota said Perkins bill “severely hurts and impacts minority communities. I don’t want to deny the kid the only time that day he’s going to get food,” Lhota said in the New York Times.

Senator Perkins called Lhota’s remarks “odd and offensive.”  “I hope his apology extends to recognizing that this is not a race issue, but a quality of life issue,” said Perkins.  Still, the Senator said he respects Lhota for apologizing and looks forward to working with him.

In a story last week, Transportation Nation reported that rats in the subway are far less dangerous than once thought.

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Transportation Nation

Photo: The Ugliest Rat

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Rat in New York City (photo by Michael Spivack)

There is a winner in the Transport Workers Union's “Ugliest Rat” photo competition.  Native New Yorker Michael Spivack clicked the prize picture at New York City’s 7th Avenue station on53rd Street.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 launched the contest last September in an effort to pressure the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to hire more clean up workers.

But curator Robert Voss with the American Museum of Natural History said rats will be with us forever, and are not as dangerous as once thought.  “They don't carry serious diseases, unlike the black rat, which used to occur in New York City but no longer does.  So, there's not a huge health issue,” said Voss.  Today’s subway rats are the same species as pet rats.  “People don’t like rats largely because of prejudice,” Voss added.  But he said rats could chew through electrical wiring and cause problems.

Contest winner Michael Spivack will receive a monthly MetroCard as a prize.  It will be presented near the very subway platform where he snapped the rat shot.

The union’s prize is well timed:  it’s in the middle of contract talks with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

To see more photos and videos of rats in the subway, go here.

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Transportation Nation

Stats Show NY Subway More Hospitable to Criminals, Perhaps Less So To Rats

Monday, October 24, 2011

The MTA has 10 trash trains like this one to collect garbage overnight from subway stations. (Photo by NotoriousJEN/flickr)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) Crime is increasing in the subway, according to NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority figures. Compared to last year, major felonies are up 17 percent and robberies are up 8.6 percent.

MTA board member Charles Moerdler, speaking to reporters today in a hallway at the MTA's Midtown headquarters, said the steady upward trend in underground crime is troubling.

"These numbers are starting to show there's a terrible concern as to whether there's a parallelism between the downturn in the economy and the upturn in the crime rate," he said.

Subway felonies steadily dropped for over a decade, before beginning to climb in 2009.

But even as crime rises, arrests in the subway are going down: there were 12 percent fewer arrests this year compared to last. Pressed by board members for an explanation, Transit president Tom Prendergast said, "I can't answer that. We'll have to get an answer for you."

Moerdler said that sends a troubling message to straphangers. "My worry is we need to demonstrate that we're on the job. We need to demonstrate a sense of protection."

The discussion came at a meeting of the MTA transit committee, where MTA chief of station operations John Gaito unveiled a program meant to starve rats in the subway by more quickly removing trash from stations--especially discarded food. He said the authority has added two "trash trains" to the eight it already has in service to shorten the amount of time that garbage bags are left for pick-up on platforms.

Workers remove trash from a station overnight by taking thick plastic bags from large metal bins and either stashing them in a storage room or lining them up on a platform for removal by trash train. With more frequent pick-ups, the goal is to have no more smelly or leaking trash bags on platforms awaiting pick-up--and serving as snack food for rodents--each day by 6 a.m. The NY MTA says about 75 bags now await pick-up from platforms each morning. That's down from 107 bags.

The authority removes about 40 tons of garbage a day from the subway. The NY MTA will also test removing trash cans entirely from platforms at two subway stations. The authority hopes the move encourages riders to dispose of their garbage elsewhere.

The initiatives come as 84 percent of subway customers surveyed by the MTA reported being satisfied with the overall comfort and convenience of the subway, up six percentage points from last year.

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WNYC News

MTA Unveils Plan to Help Remove Rats From Subways

Monday, October 24, 2011

WNYC

The MTA unveiled on Monday a new program meant to lower the number of rats in the subway by removing trash from stations.

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The New Yorker: Fiction

Lorrie Moore reads Julie Hayden

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lorrie Moore reads Julie Hayden's "Day-Old Baby Rats."

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Radiolab

Is Laughter just a Human Thing?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Aristotle thought that laughter is what separates us from the beasts, and that a baby does not have a SOUL, until the moment it laughs for the first time. Historian Barry Sanders, author of Sudden Glory, says that according to Aristotle, this moment of "human ensouling" is supposed to ...

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