The Mice and Rats Are Winning

By Shlomo Maital


   A fierce ongoing war is being waged, between humans and rats. And guess who is winning?  The rats.  The animal kind, not the human kind.

   Writing in The Guardian, Sept. 20, Jordan Kisner has some interesting and little-known facts about rats.

   * “A male and female left to their own devices for one year – the average lifespan of a city rat – can beget 15,000 descendants.”   That is partly why they are winning. The more we kill them, the more they reproduce (birth rates rise when the rat population declines)..and man, can they reproduce. And like humans, they have sex for fun, too – 10 times a day.

   * “How is it that we can send robots to Mars and yet remain unable to keep rats from threatening our food supplies? Still, here they are. According to Bobby Corrigan, the world’s leading expert on rodent control, many of the world’s great cities remain totally overcome. “In New York – we’re losing that war in a big way,” he told me.”

   * “Frankly, rodents are the most successful species,” Loretta Mayer told me recently. “After the next holocaust [nuclear war], rats and Twinkies will be the only things left.” Mayer is a biologist, and she contends that the rat problem is actually a human problem, a result of our foolish choices and failures of imagination. In 2007, she co-founded SenesTech, a biotech startup that offers the promise of an armistice in a conflict that has lasted thousands of years. The concept is simple: rat birth control.”

     How does rat birth control work?

   “SenesTech, which is based in Flagstaff, Arizona, claims to have created a liquid that will do exactly that. In tests conducted in Indonesian rice fields, South Carolina pig farms, the suburbs of Boston and the New York City subway, the product, called ContraPest, caused a drop in rat populations of roughly 40% in 12 weeks. This autumn, for the first time, the company is making ContraPest available to commercial markets in the US and Europe. The team at SenesTech believes it could be the first meaningful advance in the fight against rats in a hundred years, and the first viable alternative to poison. Mayer was blunt about the implications:   “This will change the world.” “

      SenesTech administers the rat birth control pill through liquid. “ After a series of tests, they quickly settled on a liquid, rather than solid, formulation. Rats have to drink 10% of their body weight every day to survive, and so are always looking out for something potable. “We compared the [two] and they peed on the solid and drank the liquid,” Dyer told me. “Rats are pretty straightforward.” “

     Rats have evolved over many many thousands of years. They are perfectly designed for survival in hostile environments. They are tough as nails. And they are winning. They are, as Mayer herself put it, a more successful species than us. Long after we’re gone, they will still be here.  Best we can do?   Make them practice family planning….