THE scariest thing this Halloween won’t be gangs of trick-or-treaters, but a million-strong army of rats crawling up through drains and toilets across Britain.
Kids in lockdown areas have been banned from going door-to-door this year as it involves households mixing – but there’s nothing stopping plagues of rats scuttling into homes.
And pest controllers have already warned that they’re finding alarmingly “confident” rats creeping into houses through letterboxes and up toilets in recent weeks.
Pest firm Rentokil recorded a 22 per cent increase in rat call-outs in the last month alone.
And with temperatures tumbling across the UK and more lockdown measures on the way, the situation could become even more frightening by Halloween as rats look for food waste and shelter in residential areas.
Experts say rotting pumpkins could also add to the problem, as the nation’s 81million rats seek food to survive the icy chill.
“Lockdown and winter could put us under great pressure for rat activity,” Paul Blackhurst, Head of Rentokil’s Technical Academy, tells Sun Online.
“If we have a particularly harsh winter, it could get even worse.”
Breeding fuelled by weird weather
A rise of rat infestations in homes could in part be explained by last winter’s mildness, recorded as the fifth warmest winter ever recorded in the UK.
Experts say it could have allowed 11in brown rats, one of the most common rodents in Britain, to have enjoyed a longer breeding season – meaning more vermin.
And with a summer where rats enjoyed huge levels of food waste in residential areas thanks to the pandemic, there could be enormous numbers looking to family homes as the temperature drops.
“Rats have a seasonal breeding strategy,” Paul Blackhurst explains.
“During winter times, they don’t tend to focus on breeding. What they want to do is focus on just staying warm and getting enough food, and basically just surviving the winter.
“As temperatures are starting to drop, the rats are going to start getting closer to buildings.”
Another threat of large rat populations moving indoors comes from their hierarchical clans.
If groups of rats become unsustainably large, younger males are pushed out by the dominant male – forcing the outcast rodents to spread into new areas.
And as rain arrives, which can cause flooding in outdoor rat burrows, a perfect storm is created for the disease-spreaders to look for shelter in cosy family homes instead.
They’ll pop up into the cavity wall and then go up into the loft or into the kitchen
“It’s just going to put pressure on them to find areas closer to buildings where flooding may not take place,” Paul Blackhurst says.
“It’s going to put a major pressure on those buildings, certainly through the winter, with potentially higher numbers in the environment and the colder weather now approaching.”
Dishwashers driving rats to homeworkers
This year’s unusual working situation could also leads rats to seek food in residential areas.
With restaurants and pubs closed in parts of the country, the level of food waste that rats normally thrive on isn’t being left in streets – it’s outside houses.
“Being a rat, you go where the food is,” says Paul Andrew, owner of INSX Pest Control.
“People are dispersing out of the towns a lot earlier, so you’re not getting the excessive drinking that normally goes on with the pubs and clubs.
“Even down to people being sick in the street after a nightclub – all of that is a great food source for rats. That’s what they rely on.”
Instead of the usual street food, rats will go searching elsewhere.
And with so many people working from home, there’s one place the rodents can rely on.
“Because everyone is eating at home, dishwashers are on a lot more, and that pumps waste down the sink,” Paul Andrew says.
“Rats follow the drain network and they just move to wherever the food is.”
Munching on millions of pumpkins
With an estimated 15million pumpkins grown in the UK every year, rats could be about to get another boost.
With Halloween just a couple of weeks away, pest controllers are advising families to be careful when putting one outside their home.
“It’s food waste and gives rodents a food source,” Paul Andrew says.
“If you’ve got a rodent issue, clear up the pumpkins, because they will be munching on them.”
Rentokil’s Paul Blackhurst also urges people to make sure pumpkins are swiftly disposed of before they create a new problem.
“The issue may arise if pumpkins are left outside after the event, for instance,” he says.
“If they get smashed up or they start to break down, a rat could potentially see that as food.”
Keep your home safe
But there’s more that homeowners can do to keep the critters away from their houses in the coming weeks.
Making sure bins are securely sealed, and properly managing compost heaps, will stop rats having an encouraging source of food at your property.
“People start feeding the birds at this time of year as well,” Paul Blackhurst says.
“Bird seeds that are stored in garages and sheds are brilliant food for rodents, both rats and mice love them.
“So make sure they’re in secure containers such as metal containers or plastic containers.”
And it’s also important that ensure that any possible access points to your house, like damaged air bricks, are sealed.
That also includes checking that there aren’t any defects in your drainage system – otherwise rats will exploit the breach.
“They’ll find the defect, they’ll dig in the soil, and they’ll pop up into the cavity wall and then go up into the loft or into the kitchen,” Paul Andrew explains.
Most importantly, if you think you have a rat infestation, you need to act quickly.
“Don’t leave it, because they won’t go away by themselves,” Paul Andrew adds.
“Call in a professional.”
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