Urban versus Non-urban Rats: A lesson in neophobia

It’s important to learn about the behaviors and biologies of the rodents we deal with. It helps when implementing management strategies if we know what food sources are partial to rodents, where they like to live, and how they behave. It’s been said that mice are curious and interested in new things while rats are neophobic: scared or hesitant of new items.

Recent research is beginning to shed new light on this subject. A study on Norway rats looked at the behavioral difference between lab rats and rats from a busy market.

Rats were captured from a local, busy urban market area and taken back to a lab setting. There, they were placed in arenas for acclimatization. Then a “new” object was placed in their area. The scientists used pumpkin-head plastic dolls and plastic bear dolls.

Busy urban market area in New York City

The findings? The market rats investigated their new items much more quickly than the lab rats. The lab rats also spent much less time with the new objects than the market rats. The researchers went as far as saying the market rats were “indifferent to novel objects”.

Lab rats were more neophobic than the urban rats

There is evidence that neophobia in rats is genetic; overcoming that might due to a change in genetics as well as behavior changes. Rats that are constantly exposed to a busy urban environment are subjected to lots of movement and new items. This has made those rats less fearful and not as hesitant. Many other factors can affect the investigative behavior of Norway rats such as population sizes, food availability, and even temperature. This is just one study looking at individual rats and new objects in their environment.

For the pest management professional, this is important information when implementing management plans for rats in urban versus more areas with less human activity. The non-urban rats likely need much more acclimation time to become accustomed to going to traps and bait stations. The urban rats are going to visit traps and stations much quicker. Less urban rats will need more pre-baiting/pre-trapping time. Urban rats may need stations repositioned more often to make them more appealing.

Rodents in the country need more acclimation time to become accustomed to going to traps and bait stations than their urban cousins.

For more on dealing with Norway rats and how to manage them, visit us here!

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