It Happened in Manhattan
from the book, "Our Fascinating Earth"

Our Fascinating Earth

It Happened in Manhattan

Rats directly or indirectly cause more damage in the United States than the combined depredations of all other animals. Millions of dollars' worth of stored food annually falls prey to rats.

The reproductive capacity of rats is absolutely remarkable. Scientists estimate that if all the offspring of a single pair of rats were to live and reproduce, more than 350 million rats would be populating the area within three years! It is indeed fortunate for the human race that rats are relatively short—lived — those not killed will die of old age in approximately two years.

Because of their enormous and increasing population and their voracious, omnivorous eating habits, the destructive power of rats is escalating. They have become instrumental in causing fires by gnawing through insulation on electric wiring and by using oily rags and matches to build their own nests. They have thrown entire cities into darkness by running across open switches and causing short circuits! A small consolation is that the rats causing such events are usually themselves quickly barbecued.

Rats can, and do, live anywhere: underground, in water, in trees, and particularly in the company of man. They are incredibly adaptable, and their lives have become closely linked with humans. They share our buildings, our possessions, and our food, attacking our crops before harvest, during storage, after preparation, and when it has been discarded. The living is easiest, they have discovered, near man.

Rats are quite at home in big cities; in fact the more densely populated the area, the closer it is to rat paradise. Here abundant food is practically theirs for the taking. They have adapted so well to man that human settlements are always thoroughly adequate for their needs. Because they have been partners with man for so long, the boundaries between host and "guest" have become blurred. They have reached a stage of open hostility toward man, as though they were the residents and we the intruders.

A near tragedy occurred recently in New York City. A man and his wife were startled out of sleep by the agonized cries of their infant son in the adjacent bedroom. Rushing into his room, they were horrified to find him bleeding badly from several head and shoulder wounds. On the baby's pillow a rat "nearly two feet long" was seated, staring defiantly at them. As the father tried to grapple with the rodent, it suddenly attacked first the father and then the mother. A vicious battle ensued, and eventually the man dealt the final blows with a club, but only after the rat had inflicted open wounds on both adults. The entire family required medical attention.

One might wonder, didn't they own a cat? If so, where was it? As a matter of fact, they had owned a large tomcat, but it had been killed by a rat just the week before!