Why Rats Are Misunderstood and Other Surprising Facts About Animal Behavior

Animal Stereotypes and The Surprising Truth

Some animals get a bad rap either due to their appearance, the way they are depicted in movies, or other pop culture references. The way we tend to view animals can be wildly inaccurate. There is often a wide gap between our stereotypes of animals and how they actually behave. Animals that we view as majestic or adorable can be some of the most despicable in the natural world, where others that are considered lowly, disgusting, or dishonorable are worthy of more respect.

Rats are an all-too-common pest that have garnered a reputation as filthy, disgusting, and treacherous. As exterminators we at Arrow are often in the position of eradicating rats. Despite this we respect the intelligence of an animal that has survived for so long, living alongside humans, despite humanity’s constant attempts to wipe them out. They even compete with humans for resources, using the same shelter and seeking the same food sources.Some species of mice and rats have adapted so well to their urban lifestyle that they would no longer be able to survive in nature away from human habitation.

Rats are frequently used in laboratories in part because they possess higher intellectual functions normally only found in primates, dolphins, humans, and other “apex” species. Although people often refer to someone as a “rat” to indicate that they are untrustworthy or dishonorable, some studies suggest that rats may be one of the few species capable of empathy. In laboratory settings free rats can be seen liberating other rats from their cages even if there is no clear benefit in doing so. One type of rat has even been trained to detect land mines and tuberculosis in developing countries.

Lions are seen as majestic, whereas movies such as the Lion King portray hyenas as low-down thieves always scheming to rob the lions of their kills. The reality, long known to biologists, is that hyenas hunt before dawn and more often it is the lions that chase the hyenas away from their meals. As the sun rises the hyenas can be viewed trying to reclaim their kill and for this reason they are often mistaken as the aggressor.

Chimpanzees v Gorillas– Perhaps owing to their appearance if not pop culture references, we tend to think of Chimpanzees as cute, harmless, and childlike. Gorillas, by contrast, are thought of as cruel, brutish oafs. This is another example of just how wrong our animal prejudices can be. Chimpanzees are highly aggressive among themselves, and in times of famine wild chimps have even been known to steal human babies for food. Gorillas, on the other hand, posses uncanny intelligence can even understand English and use sign language.

Deer are another animal that appear cute but in reality can be quite vicious towards each-other, with highly aggressive mating habits and constant battles for dominance.

Cades-cove-deer-fighting-tn1By Brian Stansberry (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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Unique Pest Control Methods From Around The World

These eccentric takes on traditional pest control demonstrate that there is more than one way to… control pests.

  • Using Falcons to Scare Off Pigeons

Falconry_Day

Some Arab cultures have a tradition of falconry that goes back for centuries. For ancient tribes of nomadic desert natives, hunting with falcons was a crucial source of meat in an environment where game is scarce. In modern times the ruling class displays their wealth by taking their collections of falcons abroad for hunting trips. Simply securing the permits to import falcons for an international hunting trip could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

In the United Arab Emirates, what was once a barren desert has rapidly transformed into a sprawling modern city complete with over-the-top resorts and soaring skyscrapers. Dubai in the UAE  is home to many architectural marvels including Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. For citizens of Dubai life could not be more different than that of the nomadic Bedouin tribes of their cultural heritage.

These days, falconry is the preferred method of controlling pigeon control in the UAE because the height of the buildings makes traditional methods impossible. After spending a fortune to construct all those shiny new skyscrapers, many property owners in Dubai are willing to shell out more than $10,000 a month for falcon-based pest control service. Falcons are considered a majestic animal in that region and a symbol of status. The idea of using them for routine labor is still novel and gaining acceptance. The use of falcons as bird control is becoming widespread all over the world, including the US.

How It Works- Pigeons are social birds and are excellent at communicating environmental cues within the flock. They are very sensitive to the presence of predators and quickly react as a group to any perceived threat. If a flock of pigeons are aware of a predator in the area they will leave, and if the threat persists they will not return to that location. That is why, if pursued by a well-trained falcon, it is not necessary to attack or kill the pigeons because simply scaring them off is effective.

  • Other Unique Forms of Bird Control

*Drone Strikes- In large open spaces such as golf courses and airport runways, some companies are using drone helicopters disguised as predatory birds. These machines blare out the recorded sounds of hawks and birds in distress to scatter bewildered geese.

*Laser Light Show- In enclosed indoor spaces such as warehouses, technicians can use a machine that projects laser beams in a randomized pattern across the walls and ceiling. Lasers are known to send pigeons into a frenzy. Perhaps they are not able to correctly process the beams visually, and so they interpret the beams as either a predator or some unknown threat.

*Pigeon Disco- In addition to the lasers, it is possible to use a strobe light with motion sensors to frighten pigeons away from their perches.

  • Biological Pest Control

Pesticides are used more in agriculture than any other application. A good alternative is to engineer nature itself to fight pests. In carefully regulated situations, it is possible for a pest to be repelled by introducing another type of insect to prey on it. If all goes according to plan, this new insect will control pest populations without harming the ecosystem or becoming a pest itself. Biological engineering also includes the introduction of parasites, fungi, microbes, or even viruses and bacteria to control pest species. This approach is generally more environmentally friendly than pesticides.

Sometimes, however, the introduction of a natural enemy to control pests can have unintended consequences. In Hawaii, for example, an ill informed group of locals introduced the mongoose to reduce rodent populations without consulting biologists. The mongoose population soon exploded out of control. They were ineffective against rodents but began to prey on birds and frequently raided their nests for eggs. Before the invasive mongoose species was brought under control, they became not only a nuisance but a serious threat to the welfare of many local bird populations.

Ruddy_mongoose

By ChrisHodgesUK (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Using Sex Pheromones to Lure Insects Into Traps
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Photo credit: IITA Image Library

The use of pheromones to attract insects has proven especially effective in agricultural pest control to protect pine trees from plagues of beetles. Insects and animals almost universally use pheromones to attract potential mates. Unfortunately for some insects, scientists are now able to synthesize the pheromones produced by over 1,000 species of insects.

How it Works- Large glue traps are set using only the pheromone scent of specific insects as bait. The unlikely suitors are unable to control their biological impulses, and flock to the traps where they become trapped on its adhesive surface- talk about a ‘fatal attraction’!

Suffolk County to Begin Large Scale Deer Population Control

On the east end of Long Island, town meetings across Suffolk county have been focused on coming up with a solution for what is increasingly being seen as a public health crisis- the growing deer population. Due to habitat loss and an absence of natural predators such as wolves, recent surveys have put the number of deer in Suffolk county at 27,000 with some estimates going as high as 35,000.

Environmentalists believe this number of deer is more than double what the land would be able to support in nature. This means that if the population is left unchecked, many deer may starve. They have also begun migrating into Nassau county and as far west as Queens. They are a major hazard to drivers, and have been responsible for as many as 800 injuries and 1 death in recent traffic accidents.

Deer harbor ticks which can cause Lyme Disease, a dangerous illness. Although they are not the only host of these ticks, the spread of Lyme disease is closely tied to deer populations. To combat this, Shelter Island has launched a successful program to establish deer feeding stations. As the deer feed they are simultaneously dusted with a material that is harmless to them but repels ticks.

The deer are also destroying crops and pose a significant threat to farmers, who often erect 8 foot tall fences to keep them away. Estimates put Suffolk county crop damage due to deer grazing at $3 million. A single deer is capable of consuming 8 pounds of vegetation in a every day and creating 2 pounds of waste. Their waste alone is proving to be an issue, as it can bring bacteria levels in bathing sites and shellfish production centers to unacceptable levels.

Officials are viewing this problem as a public health issue and are considering deer removal to be a matter of pest control. The communities of Suffolk county have been so affected by the disruption that there has been surprisingly little opposition from the public. The planned culling operation will be the largest of its kind in NY State history. Beginning in February and taking place over 40 nights, federal agents equipped with silenced rifles and night vision goggles will begin hunting from perches and blinds to methodically eliminate the overabundance of deer. They are well trained and professional sharp shooters, so they will attempt to euthanize the deer humanely with only shots to the head and neck, or at close range after trapping the animals. As much of the meat as possible will be donated to local food pantries. Officials are also considering changing some regulations to allow hunting closer to private property and removing other hunting restrictions.

Insects May Hold Key To Understanding Amazon Rainforest Biodiversity

To the biologists who study the ecology of The Amazon, it is no secret that the region is home to a tremendous variety and volume of plants and trees in incredible proportions. According to some estimates, The Amazon has over 2 million square miles of tropical rainforest which is home to an estimated 390 billion individual trees comprised of at least 16,000 known species. In every 2.47 acres of Amazonia, there are 1500 plant species, 750 tree species, and 900 tons of living plants, and roughly a third of the world’s oxygen is produced there. When combined with the astounding variety of insects, mammals, and other life forms this makes The Amazon Rainforest the most bio-diverse region on the planet. What has puzzled researchers and scientists about this is exactly what causes all of this diversity. Although there have been many theories on the subject, a new idea is emerging to explain why this particular region of the world is home to so many more types of trees in such a dense area than anywhere else. Surprisingly this new theory centers on insects as a major contributor to this diversity.

Throughout the Amazon, there is a silent battle being waged between a hoard of insects and their major food source- plants and trees. Insects are known to consume the leaves, stems, and seeds of all varieties of plants. To avoid destruction, plants have evolved an array of defenses, some of which can get elaborate. Plants with leaves that appear simply a little fuzzy to the human eye are more like little barbed hooks to the insects that feed on them, tearing at the underbellies of caterpillars. Some plants have even developed little pots of nectar that draw in a select group of ants to prey on other insects on the plant.

One of the most common defenses that plants and trees in the rainforest use against insects is to produce their own natural pesticide residues through their leaves. Since the weather is warm in the tropics year round most insect species can reproduce faster than in temperate climates, so they have more generations in a faster time. Since the bugs regenerate faster, they can actually develop resistance to some of the pesticides of the plants. This leads to a sort of arms race between the plants and insects.

Scientists now believe that as the plants evolve new pesticide defenses, they may also be attracting different pollinating insects that the plants need to reproduce. The ants are constantly shifting the focus of their feeding on different plants as the plant’s pesticide and their resistance to it changes rapidly. As this happens, the insects that are pollinating the plants also change. Some pollinators may only select one specific group of trees due to slight differences in that tree’s chemicals. Those same pollinators may avoid another group of trees that are nearby even if the two groups of trees are of same species. This isolates the gene pools of plants that are of the same species in a way that is unique, and this isolation may allow plants and trees of The Amazon to evolve into new species faster than elsewhere. At least that is the theory. Whatever the case, it is interesting to discover the different ways that jungle life interacts, and the important role that tiny insects play in it all.

Other Recommended Articles About The Amazon Rainforest:

Image Gallery: New Species of the Amazon

Brazilian Beauty: The Threatened Atlantic Forest

8 of the World’s Most Endangered Places

New Cold-Resistant Cockroach Found in NYC, But Does It Live Up To The Hype?

A group of exterminators working on the High Line Park in Manhattan recently uncovered a strange species of cockroach that was unknown to them. After sending it to an Entomologists for analysis it was confirmed that they had discovered an Asian species of roach that was never before found in the United States. Following this news came a torrent of reports with a slew of sensationalized headlines about the new “invaders”. Most of the articles are focused on the fact that this new species of cockroach is far more resistant to cold temperatures than other roaches native to New York, and they are capable of living both indoors and outdoors even in the winter. Some articles even suggest that these new roaches may breed with other species, creating some kind of “super roach”. In this situation scare tactics such as these are used to drum up publicity around the story. In many cases misinformation about “bugs” can feed into unnecessary worries or paranoia that has been known to endanger the welfare of perfectly harmless species of insects. It is a shame that so many species that are actually beneficial to both humans and the environment are demonized and targeted for destruction. It is doubtful that the threat of this roach will be nearly as severe as the headlines suggest.

The Facts About The New Asian Roach Species (Periplaneta Japonica):

  • It is believed that they may have arrived in New York hidden in the soil of potted plants used in the construction of the High Line urban park (on Manhattan’s West Side)
  • The cockroaches are unique in their ability to survive outdoors in the snow and in temperatures as low as 17.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • These roaches are able to adapt to freezing temperatures using a natural antifreeze chemical known as Trehalose that is found throughout their bodies. As the temperature drops, they have a natural survival mechanism which dehydrates them enough that the fluid in their bodies will not freeze. After the cold has subsided they re-hydrate and are again filled with fluid.
  • Although never before encountered in the United States, these roaches are common throughout Asia. This is why their ability to withstand cold is well known and documented.

Ways That The Impact of These Roaches May Have Been Overstated

Here are some claims (and myths) that have been made about the potential threat of the new Asian cockroaches, along with some quotes from other articles and headlines around the web:

  • Myth: These new Asian roaches are an invasive species. “Invasive cockroach found in NYC” Fact: There is not yet evidence that this roach even fits the definition of an invasive species. So many species exist outside of their native environments that at this point defining all non-native species as invasive is just too broad a distinction. To be truly invasive, a species must “adversely affect or disrupt their habitat” In other words when a species is introduced that has no natural predators, it can multiply out of control and cause damage to an ecosystem by throwing off the natural balance. Since this new roach will be in direct competition with other well-established roach species already in New York, it is highly unlikely that it will be able to gain dominance over all the other species. Although  it is difficult to fully predict their impact, it is likely that this species will remain small in number or live alongside other roaches in direct competition, not throw off the whole ecosystem the way an invasive species would. 
  • Myth: The ability of these roaches to resist the cold makes them more of a threat. “A winter-proof cockroach… it’s just New York’s latest invader” Fact: The ability of these roaches to survive a New York winter is untested. Asian studies that examined the cold resistance of these roaches used fresh, undisturbed snow. It is still unclear whether the roaches would be able to survive in the adverse conditions of New York. According to Michael Scharf, a professor of Urban Entomology at Purdue University, “There has been some confirmation that it does very well in cold climates, so it is very conceivable that it could live outdoors during winter in New York. I could imagine japonica being outside and walking around, though I don’t know how well it would do in the dirty New York snow.”
  • Myth: The japonica roach species could breed with other roach species creating a super roach. Fact: Cockroach genitalia are highly specialized and complex. Similar looking species often have very different genitalia, which fit together “like lock and key”. Some entomologists will even use a roach’s genitalia to identify it because it may be one of the few characteristics that distinguish it from other species. This makes it highly unlikely that the new species of roach will be able to interbreed with other species.
  • These roaches will have a huge disadvantage in that they have never been exposed to the types of pesticide that are used in New York. Other species have survived many attempts to exterminate them and adapted to a wide variety of chemical pesticides. This means that they have developed a crucial resistance that the new japonica species will not have

Cave Crickets: What They Are and What You Can Do About Them

PMS_-_jamska_kobilica

Camel crickets, or “cave crickets” as they are commonly known, are a type of pest insect that begin to move indoors during the winter months to get out of the cold. As their name suggests, in nature these crickets live in caves. For this reason, cave crickets seek out cool, damp environments. When they enter a house, they will usually be found in the basement, crawl spaces, garages, sheds, or lower levels. Many people find these crickets to be particularly creepy in their appearance, perhaps due to their erratic behavior and disturbing tendency to jump closer when threatened instead of scurrying away.

Cave Cricket Detailed Description:

  • Cave crickets have a distinct appearance different from that of other crickets. They are wingless, have brown and black patterns, and are dark in color. They have a “hunched over” appearance with a slightly rounded body and long antennae.
  • Although their bodies are usually no longer than an inch and a half in length, with their long limbs they can appear as long as 4 inches. That’s roughly the length of a computer mouse.
  • Since they are naturally adapted to live in harsh environments, cave crickets can go for long periods of time without eating, and are can eat things that are normally considered inedible. When no other food is available they have been known to eat fabric, paper, or even their own legs.
  • It is rare for crickets to reproduce inside of a house, although their natural resilience means that once they gain entrance they can linger for a long time.
  • Although they may appear menacing, cave crickets do not bite, they are not poisonous, and do they not typically cause any kind of property damage,
  • Cave crickets are nocturnal, although they may be active during the day if disturbed

What You Can Do About Them

  • Cave crickets rarely breed inside a home, which means that a good prevention strategy is to exclude them from the house though methods similar to those described in this article about stink bug prevention. This means sealing up any cracks that could allow the crickets to enter a house, maintaining a buffer zone around the house that is free of debris or thick mulch, installing screens around basement windows, etc.
  • Cave crickets thrive off of moisture. One solution is to eliminate moisture from crawl spaces, garages, basements, or other affected areas whenever possible.
  • Unlike stink bugs, cave crickets respond well to conventional extermination methods. Treating the outside foundation and/or setting glue board traps in the right places is a guaranteed method of getting rid of the crickets for good.
Cave_Cricket_on_Ground

By gunthercox (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Get Rid of Mice in the Home: DIY Tips

Knowing When to Do it Yourself and When to Call an Exterminator

When it comes to dealing with mice in the home, many people are a bit squeamish to tackle the problem on their own. However, there are also many people out there who are DIY enthusiasts and would be willing to tackle the problem themselves. If it is evident that there are a lot of mice present is would be best to call an exterminator, but if one or two mice are seen and it is not a large scale infestation then all that may be needed is a trip to the hardware store and a little know-how. I interviewed several technicians with decades of experience between them to put together a list of some handy tips and tricks from the professionals at Arrow Exterminating.

  • One way to tell how many mice are around is to hone in on areas where you have seen their activity and look for their droppings. They will be small black pellets approximately the size of a grain of rice. If there are a lot of droppings, there are probably multiple mice on the scene
  • Do you have children or pets? If so, this makes taking care of the problem on your own a little more tricky
  • Are the mice entering food or causing property damage? Mice are, by their nature, filthy. Any food that they have contact with should be considered contaminated and discarded. This means that if they enter a box of cereal the whole box should be tossed out. They can also gnaw through electrical wires and insulation, which can cause fires. If you are worried that mice are posing a serious threat you your health or property, it is time to call in an exterminator

Choosing a Pest Control Method

  1. Poison- Also known as rodenticide, poison is widely available as a method for controlling the populations of mice and rats. We do not recommend using poison for several reasons. Although it is the easiest and most straightforward method to administer, it can pose a serious hazard to children and pets. Also, once the mice eat it they do not die instantaneously, which means that they may perish somewhere inaccessible and begin to smell as they decompose. Although the poison is deadly to rodents, it does not have the same effect on insects. The poison has been known to actually attract other pest insects into the home.
  2. Glue Boards- We do not generally recommend glue boards because they are considered inhumane. Although they are effective and may catch several mice at once, the mice are not killed immediately and instead suffer from shock or starvation. Depending on where glue boards are set, they may also pose a hazard to children and pets. Remember, even when on a glue board mice can still bite. Here is a link to an article describing in depth how to remove an animal from a glue trap. This method will work for a mouse, domesticated animal, or anyone that accidentally gets their digits stuck on the trap.
  3. Live Traps- Although they may seem like the most humane option, consider that mice are social animals that live their lives within a small territory. Assuming that the mice survive being captured and left in a trap without water, depositing them into a strange and hostile environment leaves them extremely vulnerable to predators. Keep in mind that instead of liberating the mice, capturing and releasing them may cause more suffering than a snap trap. If mice are released too close to where they were captured there is a good chance they will use their homing instincts to seek out and re enter the property, or simply invade someone else’s home. This is why it is best to go at least a couple of miles away and/or cross a major road or highway before releasing rodents. House mice are not likely to survive in the wilderness away from human habitation. Keep in mind that mice can carry diseases, and care should be taken to only handle them when necessary and always wash your hands after contact with mice. Here is a list compiled by the US Government Center for Disease Control, demonstrating all of the diseases that can be carried by rodents and transmitted to humans. Mice may also grow wise to the live traps and figure out ways to get around them.
  4. Traditional Snap Traps- These are an excellent choice for trapping mice. Although they are lethal, they are also humane and are designed to dispatch the mice as quickly as possible without causing unnecessary pain or injury.

Tips and Tricks From The Experts

A lot of people out there choose another type of trap over the snap trap because they are worried about setting the snap trap. Setting the trap will not cause any serious injury, and when used properly it will not snap onto your hand. Knowing how to set the trap right may lead to more confidence in using this method

  • Some of our technicians use sandpaper, a nail file, or other coarse material to “rough up” the end of the trigger. The extra texture at the end of the trigger gives it more grip. This makes the trap a little less sensitive and easier to set without affecting its ability to trap mice.
  • Always handle the snap trap from the side opposite the bait. If you never touch the side of the trap that is snapped down on, then there is no chance you will get your finger caught in the crossfire.
  • Don’t forget to apply the bait before the trap is set. Our technicians recommend a combination of peanut butter and birdseed.
  • When using viscous bait (such as chocolate and peanut butter), try to avoid spreading it in a big glob across the whole bait station. The yellow rectangular pad where the bait is placed has a hole in the middle of it, and if the bait seeps through the hole it may prevent the pad from compressing when the mouse hits it.
  • The traps are most effective when the mice dont have access to any other food sources in the house besides the bait. Be sure to clean up any stray crumbs or scraps of food, and keep lids on the garbage cans.
  • It may be worthwhile to leave the trap unset the first day and allow the mice to eat the bait off the trap. This will get the mice accustomed to feeding off the trap so that when it is set they will already be used to going for the bait
  • Another similar tactic that is a little quicker is to bait and set the trap, and also leave some bait around the outside of the trap
  • Set the traps near to where you see droppings or mouse activity. Set them against the wall with the triggers facing the wall. Set several traps in the same spot. Mice do not have good vision and instead rely on an acute sense of smell and hearing. Perhaps because of their poor vision, they are known to scurry along the same pathways over and over, usually near the wall.
  • Be prepared that even in a kill trap it is possible for the mouse to become trapped while still alive. In these situations you would need to finish the job yourself. Also, if the traps are not checked frequently, dead mice could produce an offensive odor. If all this proves to be overwhelming, or if the tactics described here are not working for you, it may be time to call an exterminator.