10 amazing facts about New York City’s rats

The internet went wild last week over a video of a rat dragging a slice of pizza down the steps of a New York City subway. But “pizza rat” is just the tip of the iceberg.

Rats are some of the most resilient creatures in the world. They eat just about anything. They multiply incredibly fast, and they might be one of the few creatures that survive the next mass extinction. They even have their own Wikipedia page.

Here are some amazing facts about everyone’s least favorite rodent vermin.


It’s an urban myth that there are as many rats as people in New York. In fact, the real number of rats is closer to one-quarter of the number of people (or about 2 million rodents).

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Tim Murtaugh/Flickr

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All New York City rats today are the same species: the Norwegianrat (Rattus norvegicus). This is the same kind as pet rats and lab rats. It’s also known as the brown rat, the sewer rat, and the alley rat.

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Martin Cooper/Flickr Creative Commons

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The average adult brown rat is 16 inches long and weighs 1 pound, but some have been reported to be as long as 20 inches and weigh up to 2 pounds.

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Audrey/Flickr Creative Commons

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They reproduce incredibly fast. Rats are sexually mature at two to three months old and can produce a litter of five to seven pups every couple of months.

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Forsaken Fotos/Flickr Creative Commons

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Rats eat everything (pizza rat is a case in point). They can survive on just an ounce of food and water a day, which they can easily get from NYC’s trash and food waste.

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Matt Little/YouTube Screenshot

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As you might expect, rats are crawling with nasty bugs that can make us sick, like the bubonic plague (picture below). One study found that NYC rats carry the bacteria E. coli, Clostridium difficile, and Salmonella, as well as rat-bite fever and Seoul hantavirus (which can cause serious fever and sometimes death).

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Wikimedia Commons

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There are even stories of rats attempting to eat humans. In 1860, The New York Times ran a story about a dead newborn baby whose nose, upper lip, cheek, and toes were reportedly chewed off by rodents.

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Qi Wei Fong/Flickr Creative Commons

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Urban dwellers beware: Rats can easily wriggle up toilet pipes, as a recent National Geographic video demonstrated.

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National Geographic/YouTube Screenshot

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New York City has found some innovative ways to deal with its rat problem. An organization called the Ryders Alley Trencher Fed Society (R.A.T.S.) trains dogs to hunt rats anyway they’re needed.

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REUTERS/Mike Segar

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But rats aren’t going anywhere. According to “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History,” by Elizabeth Kolbert, they may be some of the few animals that could survive the next mass extinction. In fact, all of us mammals are descended from a ratlike creature that emerged from the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs.

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Carl Buell

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