Why Would New York City Boast Of A Rat Population That Rivals Its Human Inhabitants – Especially When It’s Not True?

Alap Naik Desai

New York City is probably the most bustling and happening city on the entire American continent. Though it has many wonders, like the huge Central Park, it also boasts of some weird things. One of the weirdest things that New Yorkers used to extoll about was the rat population.

A popular urban legend states New York City has two populations that are almost equal. In other words, there is one rat for every New Yorker. As the Big Apple has a human population of 8 million, so is the rat count. But, a new thesis has debunked this as a greatly exaggerated myth.

The study states that New York doesn't have any more than 2 million rats at best, give or take 150,000, reported the New York Daily News.

Speaking about his research, Jonathan Auerbach, a 26-year-old Ph.D. candidate in the statistics department at Columbia University and the author of the new study, said, "While the rat population remains a serious problem in New York City, there appears to be no evidence supporting the 8 million number. Anybody who knows anything about rats knows there aren't eight million rats. We know that 40 to 50 rats belong to a typical colony."

His calculations were based on simple math and awareness about the habitation of rats. For his study, Mr. Auerbach had to rely on information about rat complaints gathered from 311 call logs, which is publicly available on the New York City's data portal. Using this information, he correlated the location of each reported sighting to the corresponding building lot. Now New York City has about 842,000 such lots, out of which 40,500 are rat infested ones.

So taking all into consideration, New York City has about 2.02 million rats in all, stated the statistician. Incidentally, New York's gigantic rat problem isn't so big as it is made out to be, reported NPR. Robert Sullivan's Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants has pegged the rat population quite close to what Mr. Auerbach concluded. Moreover, World War II animal behaviorist David E. Davis, who trapped rats in apartments in East Harlem, also stated that the city had around one rat per 36 people.

However, the "one rat per person" seems too good a statistic to throw out, and the hypothesis originated in The Rat Problem, a 1909 book by W. R. Boelter.

New York City just can't be home to one rat for every person because that would simply be a disaster of epic proportions, considering how destructive rats are and the serious public health risk they pose, stated Mr. Auerbach.

[Image Credit | Smithsonian Mag]