Did Cicada Explosion Lead to Boom in Rat Population?
"We're doing whole neighborhoods right now on Russell Road, in Old Town, in Springfield and Annandale," Goodwin said. "It's all of the areas hit hard by the cicadas. There was an increased food [source] for everything. All the litters were all increased. Now there's an influx of life."
Goodwin points to his company's recent sales of bait boxes. The company normally sells about 10 cases a week. Over the last two weeks, Goodwin said, they've sold 55 cases.
There are plenty of skeptics, however.
Robert Corrigan is an urban rodent specialist who helps cities around the globe solve their rat problems. As far as he is concerned, there is at best only a minor link between cicadas and growing rat populations.
"Everyone is looking for simple answers, but it's complex," Corrigan said. "It's urban sprawl. It's milder winters. It's increased demolitions. It's the public not paying what they should for very thorough pest-control programs."
Although he said the cicadas provided "one giant good meal" for the local rodent population, Corrigan insists "it's not going to explain the explosion of rats."
Richard Kramer is technical director for American Pest Management, which has a contract with the State Department to send experts to overseas embassies, where they train personnel in pest-control management. Kramer said rats are very territorial eaters and doubts they were very interested in the cicada smorgasbord.
"Does that mean they don't eat cicadas?" Kramer said. "No, they probably ate some, but I don't think that spike in activity would account for increased rat problems."
Whether you buy the cicada theory or not, officials agree that homeowners can take important steps to avoid rodent problems.
Keeping trash in receptacles and off the ground is an important first step. Firewood stored outside should also be kept elevated in a rack at least six inches off the ground to avoid rodent nesting.
Bird feed should never be scattered on the ground; officials say it should be provided to birds in feeders at least 36 inches off the ground.
Ivy, a shady habitat perfect for rodents to burrow in, is also a big no-no.
Alexandria requires homeowners who plan to disturb their property with construction to lay rodent bait seven days in advance. Officials note that construction around the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge has been a big problem, scattering displaced rats into Old Town's restaurant district, where restaurateurs have to be vigilant.
"Most people don't realize they may be the source of the problem," Conner said. "You plant lovely ivy, you leave your trash on the ground and you're spreading bird feed. Hey, surprise, it's you."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company