There are only about a couple dozen rodentologists in the world, and D.C. has snagged one of them. Robert Corrigan, an Indiana rodent consultant, is leading a series of “rat summits,” aimed at combating the proliferation of rodents, in each of the city’s wards. The District’s Department of Health says residents have been complaining more about rats, and that the summits are intended to educate residents and business owners on how to help mitigate the rodent invasion.

Corrigan, who’s written an “Integrated Pest Management ” plan for the District, has  already hit Ward 1, and will visit the other seven wards in the coming months. In an interview with City Desk, he discussed D.C. residents’ peskiest co-inhabitants.

City Desk: Baltimore once boasted it had bigger rats than D.C. Is this true?

Robert Corrigan: Baltimore and New York and Philly and Washington, we all have the same single rat specie, a Norway rat. There’s no difference between Baltimore rats, or D.C. rats, they all are the same.

CD: Would you say we have a rat problem in D.C.?

RC: I’d say rats have always been a problem since cities were constructed…Is it a problem in Washington? Yes. Is it a problem in Baltimore? Yes. When there are rats and they are close to humans, I’d say it is a problem.

CD: Has the construction boom in the city exacerbated the problem?

RC: Construction itself does not cause rat problems, although the public thinks that as soon as bulldozer comes into town they are going to have rats. That’s not true. Construction is not going to create rats. If construction digs up a street or a vacant street and rats are already there, then yes of course, they are going to run around and be displaced. The construction boom in D.C. is adding to the severity of it. I would say that is the accurate way to phrase it.

CD: So vacant lots are a bigger problem than construction?

RC: If the trash in a vacant lot is not maintained, then that’s when rats come. If they have nothing to eat, they won’t be on a vacant lot.

CD: Anything else that has contributed to the seemingly recent rat problem?

RC: The causes of the rat boom in D.C. are probably the same in other cities. We have had the warmest 10 years ever recorded. When you have repeated mild winters, an animal that lives outdoors benefits.

CD: Is the rat boom worse in D.C. or New York?

RC:  New York is probably the No. 1 ratropolis in the United States. There is a direct correlation between the density of the population and the number of rats…The average person generates up to five pounds of trash every 24 hours, and within that five pounds about one-third of it is food, and that’s where rats take advantage. 

CD: How dirty are rats?

RC: They can transmit up to 60 diseases, but most of these rats won’t transmit something to us, but we don’t know when and which ones will transmit [diseases] to us.  They transmit when they defecate and urinate, and that’s the No. 1 way they can. And sometimes they will bite people…

CD: Do they carry rabies?

RC: The good news is that rats and mice do not transmit rabies.

CD: So then how much should we hate these rodents?

RC: The rat is the animal you love to hate. However, the irony is that you and I as a species owe more to the rat than any other mammal on the planet…The reason we have so many drugs that do so many wonderful things for us, is because rats have made so many sacrifices for us as the perfect laboratory animals.

CD: What can do to stop rats from taking over D.C.?

RC: As people, we get a very low grade on how we deal with out trash once we take it out of our homes…The best way to take care of our trash is to treat it with a lot more respect. We should make sure the lids on our trash bins are closed and if it’s a Dumpster, that Dumpster should be kept clean.

Photo by Charles Jeffrey Danoff via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0