Families are even being run out of their homes by bigger, bolder rodents forced to adapt their methods to thrive during lockdown
Last year Rentokil reported nearly an 80 per cent increase in visits to its website, while the UK’s rat population is said to have grown by around 25 per cent to 150million.
With offices still lying empty and more people working from home, increased household waste means the critters are making their way into residential areas.
Here, pest control experts explain how the desperate vermin, which have even been known to eat their young, are getting creative to infiltrate homes – and how best to stop them.
Rats crawling up through loos and ‘gnawing seats’
Boasting a sense of smell that is even more powerful than dogs, rats manoeuvre their way through sewers seeking out pipelines with the strongest scents.
The creatures are famously strong swimmers and will brave toilet U-bends to enter households.
Peter Higgs, managing director of PGH Pest Prevention, told the Mirror he recently witnessed a case where a rat tried to chew through a toilet seat after crawling up a pipe.
“It had swam through the U-bend and chewed through the seat trying to get through to the living space,” he says.
“The toilet seat was wooden, their teeth are as strong as steel so they can pretty much chew through anything.”
Mark Moseley, director of PestGone Environmental, says the problem has become a daily occurrence in callouts.
“On all the years I’ve been on this planet I’ve never had a rat personally come through my toilet, but I see it every day in the profession we’re in,” he says. “Every day we’ll have rats coming out of someone’s toilet.”
With many businesses shut over lockdown, the job has also been made easier by owners turning off the water supplies to save cash.
‘Dry lines’ have been a major problem for the hospitality sector in particular and led to one restaurant suffering an infestation of 16 rats.
“Due to the pandemic they’ve switched the water off, someone’s flushed the toilet and that’s it, the water’s gone,” Mark says.
“We had 16 rats in one restaurant. The guy couldn’t believe what was happening to his restaurant, all because of dry lines. Someone opened the door and they just ran out.”
Rodents turn to homes with offices shut
With millions working from home, pest controllers warn rats have followed the increasing waste in homes.
Peter says their sharp noses mean that if they smell other rats thriving, they will follow suit.
“If you have one or two rats in the house and they’re living successfully, other rats will smell that and think, ‘Oh where I’m living at House B, there’s actually a better place at House A’,” he explains.
Plastic sewage pipes are no issue for the rodents’ razor teeth and moves to reduce bin collections by councils are also feared to have attracted legions of vermin.
While the hardy creatures can survive cold winters underground, they also shelter in gardens and Mark warns the recent downturn in weather could force more indoors.
“They could be seen possibly more in homes during the winter,” he says. “Sometimes they’ll live under people’s decking or sheds during the summer, but they won’t want to do that in the winter.
“So then they come in and nest next to a heating system or up in the loft space next to an insulation system.”
Grim ‘cannibals’ force mothers out of sewers
A chilling trend among urban rats is that, as the hunt for food becomes more extreme, they will even turn towards cannibalism.
Bill Lane-Petter, a post-war rodent expert, reported back in 1968 how malnutrition can cause a “perversion” in mothers that makes them eat their young.
“This will lead her, as well as other adult or growing animals in the cage, to devour carcasses, and even to attack and kill the young in order to eat them,” he said, as reported by the Guardian.
In another grim development, the specialist suggested this can even “develop as a vice”.
“Whisker-eating in mice is not uncommon; it can go on to ear- or toe-chewing, and, from there to total cannibalism.”
Aside from sounding like something from a horror movie, this can have real-life consequences on the creatures’ movement.
Mark says females will often flee the sewers after breeding to protect themselves from males snacking on their young.
“Most of the rats live in the sewer lines to live and breed,” he says.
“Females usually come and nest somewhere away from the sewers because the adult males eat the young. So the females will be seen in properties quite a lot.”
Fat rats gorging on fast food
Thankfully, rats don’t primarily feast on each other – but rather turn to waste bins for an easy dinner.
With takeaway and fast food culture taking hold over recent decades, however, it has led to reports of giant rodents terrifying home owners.
With the pests not having to work as hard for their next meal, Mark says they’re “getting fatter and fatter” – especially around bustling city centres.
“It’s the ‘TV dinner on the sofa’ lifestyle that means rats don’t have to work for their food,” he says, adding that he once caught a creature “near enough the size of a cat”.
“They’re not burning it off because there’s so much food in London that they’re just physically getting fatter and fatter.
“The offspring will get bigger naturally as the bone structure has to get bigger to take the weight of these fat rats.”
With Britain tackling record obesity rates over recent years, unhealthy diets have also trickled down the food chain too.
Peter explains that sugary foods mean the pests struggle to know when they have eaten enough – getting bigger as a result.
“When rats eat stuff like sugared buns and pastries, they don’t tend to understand,” he says.
“Their bodies don’t register that they’re full so they keep eating, which does influence the size of a rat. They’re more likely to get bigger if they’re eating all the fast food.”
To keep safe, Mark recommends installing a ‘rat flap’ – a one-way valve in manholes that stops the creatures from travelling up sewage pipes into loos.
Laying down rat poison alone won’t stop infestations, Peter adds.
“They attract each other, so unless you change the environment, you’ll always continue to have rats,” he says.
“Even if you put the best poison down ever, it’s pointless unless you do proofing because they will come back.”