Mashpee health agent Glen E. Harrington has received significantly more reports and complaints of rats in residential Mashpee this year than he has in the past.
“Absolutely,” he said, when asked if Mashpee has seen an increase of reports of the furry pest. “We have gotten them before, but they have become more prevalent and more consistent.”
Mr. Harrington said that he has received reports weekly of the rodents, whereas in the past, the complaints came in about every other month, or a half-dozen times a year. Residents have spotted them in the day, which Mr. Harrington said shows the significant increase of the population, because rats are nocturnal creatures.
Sandwich health agent David B. Mason said that he has also seen a significant increase in complaints of rats this year.
The Sandwich Enterprise reported in April that the Sandwich Health Department had received an increase in calls about rat infestations around dumpsters in commercial areas and in residential and rural areas around town—everywhere that food is plentiful.
The rat spotted in both towns is known as Rattus norvegicus, commonly known as brown rats or Norway rats, which are not native to the United States but came from Europe.
As to the source of the filed complaints, both health agents point to neighbors of owners of backyard chicken and bird feeders, piled-up trash, and poorly maintained compost piles.
“We need to address the sources of food and where they are living,” Mr. Harrington said.
“Rats are lazy,” Mr. Mason said. He said they live within 25 yards of a food source; when the food source dissipates, they move on, he said.
Both health agents speculate that populations have increased due to the decrease in population of rat predators, such as coyote and fox, and because new sources of food for rats, such as backyard chicken coops and composting, have increased in popularity.
“Residential areas did not used to be the problem but now they [rats] are more prevalent because of [residents’] lacking to take care of trash and a failure to keep up on backyard chickens,” Mr. Harrington said.
Both agents, as well as Marion E. Larson, chief of information and education for the state Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, suggested tips to minimize the rat nuisance.
For backyard chicken farmers, a well-designed and maintained chicken coop can make the difference. Rats typically burrow under the ground and into a coop to eat chicken feed. Wire can keep the rats from burrowing in. Farmers should not leave an excess of feed out for the rats.
Residents who have compost piles should enclose the compost and not leave them open for wildlife. They should also rotate the piles routinely, so that odors from decomposing food do not emanate and attract the rodents.
Residents should remove bird feeders during the summer months, or at least use a well-designed system that does not drop food on the ground. An alternative is to have plants that can nourish all types of birds in the summer months.
Residents should close off crawl spaces under porches and sheds and remove piles of brush where the rodents can live.
Mr. Mason said that Sandwich gives out enforcement orders to residents where rat complaints have surfaced. If a resident has an abundance of trash, the town will write an order asking the resident to clean it up.
Ms. Larson, at the state level, could not speculate as to the decrease or increase of the coyote and fox populations, noting that the state has not noted an increase or decrease. She said that the state wildlife headquarters in Wareham has received about the same amount of reports of sightings of coyotes and foxes this year compared to prior years.
She did note that populations of species are rarely a flat line statistic, as populations tend to ebb and flow with a spike here and there; she said that could explain the speculations of the local health agents.
Ms. Larson, however, did note that last fall was a “mast year,” meaning a high yield of fruits, berries and nuts on trees and shrubs. The rats could have survived the winter on the produce. She also noted that the winter was warmer than normal, increasing the chances of rat survival.
Omar Cabrera, with the communications office of Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said the state typically does not receive many reports of rats; if they do come in, these reports are referred to local boards of health.
“Rats and mice can spread a variety of diseases, including rat bite fever, leptospirosis, lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus infection, and in other parts of the country, hantavirus infection and plague,” according to the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards. “While occurrence of any of these diseases in humans in Massachusetts is rare, rodent feces in food can spread Salmonella and rodents may harbor ticks, fleas and mites that can bite humans.”
According to the Encyclopedia of Life, rats can deliver 13 litters a year that consist of seven to nine young each litter. They typically live a year to two years in the wild.