Ratastic News Week “Disease, Death and Invasion” Edition

David Bennett

This week we look at how rats love the way temperatures are warming into the cold months because that gives them lots more time to make babies!   Hawaii gets its third case of rat lungworm, and Alaska gets its first case, meaning that the rat-borne disease is spreading slowly and steadily across the country.  Finally, in a Twilight Zone/Mystery Science Theatre moment, we look at a woman who is an anthropomorphic taxidermist, and her animal of choice to make look more human—is the rat. That’s right!  She stuffs dead rats for a living and makes them look more human!   The ghoulish delights await in this edition of the Ratastic Newsflash!

Last week’s quiz question!  What popular film used more than 1000 live, puppet and mechanical rats?

Answer: Indiana Jones and the last crusade. 

This week’s quiz question: How many rats are on a chicken farm?


Warming temps for longer periods perfect for rat sex life and disease spreading!

Wonder why more rat calls are going in to cities like New York, Washington DC, Boston and Chicago?   Popular Science and other publications and experts say it’s because the

weather is warmer for longer periods compared to years past—and the rats love it because they get to have sex longer and have lots and lots of babies!   Popular Science explains: “In an interview with the Wall Street Journal this month, city officials were cautiously optimistic about the rat reduction efforts, pointing to promising numbers in particularly rat-infested neighborhoods that were top targets of the campaign. But, they said, a smaller-than-expected overall reduction in 311 calls could be partly beyond their control. “You need three weeks of below-freezing weather so [rats] don’t come out for food,” Deputy Mayor Laura Anglin told the Journal.  While city rats breed all year, they usually slow down during the colder months, but climate change is turning winters warmer, spurring rats to get frisky. Generally, “it doesn’t make any sense to keep cranking

out babies in the winter — food is scarcer, temperatures are colder, and that threatens babies,” said Robert Corrigan, a rat expert who has consulted with the city on its extermination efforts. “Rats pretty much shut down production when winter is coming.”  But warmer winters could enable rats to squeeze out another litter or two in the off-season. In February, regulators logged a high of 1494 complaints in 2017, when Central Park temperatures averaged nearly 42 degrees. The historic average for February in the park is around 35 degrees.  Of course, temperature is just one factor in rat reproduction, and Corrigan stressed that there are no scientific studies definitively linking increases in rat populations with climate change. But in the war against rats, giving an inch could mean losing a mile. “If we give these animals a slight benefit in their reproductive potential, that’s going to make a difference,” Corrigan said. With the top four warmest years on record all happening in the past four years, Corrigan warned that this could be the new normal.”   Warmer weather means more rat borne diseases spreading according to Healthline. “The warmer weather also cascades down onto the various other parasites and bugs that depend on rats for survival. Disease-carrying ticks, mites, lice, and fleas are all more likely to survive and reproduce during mild winters. A similar problem manifested earlier this year when reports of increased tick-borne illnesses were largely attributed to booming populations of mice — the critters that spread ticks throughout forested areas.”

Rat Lungworm Disease Introduces itself in Alaska, and 3rdcase of rat lungworm found in Hawaii

Pursuant to our prior article, the rat borne disease of rat lungworm is slowly making its way across the United States, with a new case found in Alaska, one of the last places one might expect such a disease to be found.  However, the disease contraction was not endemic to Alaska.  The woman who got it had been in Hawaii, where multiple cases of rat lungworm have occurred.   The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports “An Anchorage woman was found earlier this year to have contracted rat lungworm disease while vacationing in Hawaii, according to a report Thursday from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.  The incident was the first such report of rat lungworm disease reported to the department’s Section of Epidemiology. The disease is medically termed angiostrongyliasis, in reference to the parasite Angiostrongylus cantonensis, commonly referred to as rat lungworm.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the Angiostrongylus family parasites can cause severe gastrointestinal or central nervous system disease in humans, depending on the species. The species A. cantonensis, which had infected the Anchorage woman, can cause meningitis.”  US News and World Report came out with a report about a 3rdunrelated case coming out in Hawaii as well: “The case marks the third that state health officials have confirmed this year. The disease is caused by a parasitic roundworm. It can affect a person’s brain and spinal cord. “The disease spreads through larvae that’s accidentally ingested when people eat raw freshwater shrimp, land crabs and snails or raw produce that contains infected slugs or snails.

Frankenrat: Woman Stuffs Rats to Make Them Look More Human—For Fun

Art comes in many forms—some we like and some may seem strange to some of us.   In Canada, a woman who is an anthropomorphic taxidermist loves rats. Dead rats.  Ankixsa Risk stuffs them and poses them to make them look more human.  She may be the Dr. Frankenstein to the rat world! The Toronto Star explains: ““I just fell in love with the idea,” she says. “But it took another two decades for me to pick up a scalpel.” Risk considers herself a rouge taxidermist, someone who makes mixed-media taxidermy art, constructed out of taxidermied animals and synthetic materials.  She has been teaching Casual Taxidermy since 2014 and also creates taxidermy props for film and television, including the new series What We Do in the Shadows. I’d seen Risk’s workshops pop up in my social media feed and was fascinated to try a hobby that has a long history, but

also seems, well, macabre. When I signed up, I was focused on the artistic part of giving my rat humanoid features, not realizing I’d quite literally have to skin a rat. In fact, I didn’t realize how much time would be spent dissecting our rodents … and I still had to remove the flesh from the tail and carefully slice around the eyelids and ears so the head remains intact. “This is the gross part,” says Risk. “Bringing them back to life is more fun.”  Once the skin is separated from the carcass, Risk donates the carcasses to a local reptile zoo.  The actual recreation of the rat—well, let’s just say that this is a process that not only would amuse Dr. Hannibal Lecter, but it is also an art the Victorians would approve of, and perhaps Risk is reviving the 100 year old art.  Victorians did something similar—with kittens—stuffing them and posing them around a fancy dinner table in a very Edwardian way is just one of the ways the Victorians used them anthropomorphically, and indeed, during the Victorian age, taxidermy became an important decorative item. The author of the Toronto Star article about this artist—well—she posed her dead stuffed rat reclining in a bubble bath in a bathtub, complete with cigarette and champagne.  Her kids may think she’s sick, but it doesn’t seem a bad way to end up, actually.   For a rat or a person.

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Tags: Angiostrongylus cantonensis, Center for Disease Control, Climate chance, Global warming, IPM, Municipal housing, NPMA, NWCOA, Pest Control, PestWorld2019, Public Health, Public housing, Rat Lungworm Disease, Rats, Taxidermist

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