The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been immediate, and long lasting, with businesses having to adjust the way operations take place. While for you and I, the impact has been quite easy to see; from wearing masks and carrying sanitizer wherever you go to minimizing contact with large groups. The one aspect that often is overlooked is the impact the pandemic has had on rodents, as these pesky pests have had to adapt like everyone else.
- General Impact of Rodents
- Rodent Impact on Commercial Areas
- Rodent Impact on Residential Areas
- Potential Cause For Concern
General Impact of Rodents
One of the ecological impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on rodents is the depletion of resources. Rodents (rats & mice) will have had a flourishing population established around or in close vicinity to the food source, such as food handling facility dumpsters and compactors. However, during the lockdown, some resources suddenly disappeared, so rodents were forced to move and become bolder during the daytime. This means residences at the periphery of the restaurant/eatery or food handling facility may have become more susceptible to rodents invading.
Usually after most short lived natural disasters, there is sudden increase in rodent (commensal) populations. This is because such disasters often drive humans away temporarily, creating voids and structural damage which rodents invade and counter inhabit, with food left behind, there are plenty of resources to grow and support rapid population growth. The COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as a natural disaster but its impact on rodents is different, it has the opposite effect – lockdown!
Anecdotal evidence shows that rodents may have become more aggressive, as the concept of “survival of the fittest” has become more prevalent due to a lack of resources. There is evidence of cannibalism among rodent populations, implying that the young, old and weak rats will be eliminated – the domino effect creates a reduction in the population/colonies. Also, bold and aggressive rats are more likely to attack other animals including humans and are able to pass the aggressive genes or behaviour to their offspring; consequently, we may see aggressive rodents becoming a dominant subsector of the population (no evidence yet but deductive thinking would lead us to this potential conclusion).
Rodent Impact on Commercial Areas
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many food service locations shutting down – especially restaurants, food courts and other food service venues. There were plenty of food and water sources when these venues were open, which meant no food competition for these pests. When the locations shut down, the following occurred:
The quiet streets meant freedom for rodents to move around without hesitation. These rodents came out from hiding and roamed the streets in search of food. As a result, there was an increase in rodent sightings and activity which may be misinterpreted as an increase in rodent population, which is not the case. This increase in sightings does not necessarily imply an increase in rodent population.
In some commercial structures that had food items but were shut down because they were deemed as non-essential, the human absence and potential presence of food items left on shelves or in storage would attract them and provide optimal habitat and breeding conditions for rodents. As a result, there might have been a population explosion in some enclosed “hotspots”.
That increase in rodent activity has also led to an increase in ectoparasites that are found on rats and other rodents such as rodent fleas, mites and ticks that have the potential to infest areas/buildings. As these rodents migrated to new areas, they have the potential to spread the parasites to new territories, possibly in empty restaurants or other empty spaces.
Rodent Impact on Residential Areas
Rodents from commercial areas migrated to residential areas in search of food; hence, there was also an increased sightings and rodent population in residential areas. This population influx has led to increased rodent damage, as more rodents take residence in and around homes.
As people produced more waste and food refuse during pandemic lockdowns meant plenty of food sources for rodents. A survey conducted by research firm Caddle for Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Labs showed that Canadians produced 13.5% more food waste during the lockdown than non-lockdown times. Food abundance means high reproductive rates and increase in rodent populations, which is why more people may be seeing rodents in their residential neighbourhoods; which is the opposite effect in commercial areas.
Potential Cause For Concern
We also don’t know if the behavioural changes seen during the pandemic will eventually become genetically passed onto offspring. If this happens, it may result in more aggressive, bold rats that are active during the day.
Most behavioural changes are not genetic, hence not passed on but there is still a lot that we don’t know as of now, such as the potential to see more structural damage, and as the seasons shift we may see rodents moving and nesting indoors and the possibility of ectoparasites being introduced into new spaces.
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