2 million rats call the Big Apple home

2014-11-07 09:23

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

New York - There may be 8 million stories in the Big Apple, but one of them, that New York City is home to 8 million rats, or one for every human resident is probably a tall tale, according to research by a Columbia University statistician.

In truth, the city's rat population is probably closer to 2 million, said Jonathan Auerbach, a Columbia doctoral student who wrote an essay on the subject published in Significance magazine.

The urban lore that there are as many rats as citizens dates back at least a century, Auerbach says. It may have endured in part because reliably estimating the city's rat population is difficult even though the creatures are hardly invisible, as most New Yorkers who see them skittering about the subway tracks or hear them rustling through trash piles will attest.

"Animals are terrible survey respondents", he wrote in the article, which was the winning entry in a young statisticians writing competition organised by London's Royal Statistical Society.

Auerbach did not let the difficulties deter him, arguing that more precise estimates would be useful given that the rodents spread disease, start fires by chewing on electric cables and occasionally bite people.

His initial plan was to use a method that involves capturing a random sample of rats, marking them, releasing them, and then capturing another random sample of rats.

But the city's health department, which is responsible for dealing with rats, was not enthralled with the idea, Auerbach wrote.

Instead, he used complaints from the public about rat sightings, which the city tracks and publishes online. Combining the data with a number of assumptions, he was able to extrapolate the number of rat-occupied lots to about 40 500 across the city, or less than 5% of the total.

If each inhabited lot is home to a typical colony of 50 rats, which would mean there are about 2 million rats in the city.

In a statement, the health department called Auerbach's "interesting," but added that there was not simply any valid method for counting any large city's rat population, nor would it be particularly useful if there were.

"The precise number of rats would not influence how the city and property owners should respond to signs of rats", the department said.

Read more on:    us  |  animals  |  research

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.