Dallas' Rat Problem Is Getting Worse

If a pest control guy is making you feel terrified about rats invading your home, he's probably just trying to sell you on his ability to kill all those rats. That's the lesson, anyway, from another guy who sells rat-killing services.

"If it feels like they're trying to scare you, they probably are," says Matt Evans, head of the DFW A Wildlife Pro animal control company. In keeping with his own philosophy, Evans cautions us not to panic about what sure sounds like a huge increase in rats breaking into people's attics this summer. Asked about his rodent numbers, he says he's been getting a few dozen calls about rats and squirrels in attics each week. It's definitely more than past summers, when his rodent-in-attic calls per week stayed safely in the single-digit range.

Evans is guessing that the mild weather this summer has made attics more hospitable to critters. Still, the infestations have been easy to manage. "We're not overrun," he assures us. That's good. The bad news is that people who work in the wild say this isn't just a matter of rats finding our attics more comfortable year-round. There may also be more rats breaking into Dallas homes because there are more rats, everywhere.

"We've really got a rat explosion," says Cliff Moore, owner of DFW-based Animal Services Inc. Moore doesn't do pest control, so he's not making a living off of house-rat calls. Rather, he's noticed the explosion by working out in the field, trapping and releasing bigger animals. He can't name a specific spot that is rat prone. He just sees them. "It's throughout Dallas, Fort Worth, the whole metroplex really," Moore says.

North Texas sits on the Blackland Prairie, the eco-region that is home to many interesting plants and animals, at least in the spots where we haven't developed the land and killed everything.The two major rat species here are the roof rats and Norway rats, famous in most major cities for their ability to thrive in the gross corners of human habitats like trash bins and subways.

These rats are still safely near the bottom of the food chain, making a Planet of the Rats scenario unlikely. Unfortunately, they seem to realize this, and have kept their bloodline strong for thousands of years by making a ton of babies, growing exponentially with each generation. "They are a highly successful species," says Evans.

In Texas, they've lately been more successful than what people are used to. It was back in March when Texas A&M's agriculture department reported "greater-than-average activity" from rats in Dallas, Houston and other major cities, with an all-out explosion/home-invasion happening down south in Bastrop County. The increase is partly the result of wildfires that killed the rats' predators, the university wrote. Then a bunch of big storms followed, leading to a late-season surge in grass and seeds that helped the rats proliferate.

The storm/wet weather theory is shared by Robert Bradley, a biology professor at Texas Tech University. He doesn't have an official count, but in West Texas, where he's often in the field trapping rodents, "our trapping success is up," he says, putting a positive spin on it. "Rainfall this summer has improved conditions, triggering a reproductive increase," he says by email.

In the event of a possible oncoming rat-pocalypse, the advice from pest-controllers like Evans remains the same. Killing the rats isn't enough. You also need to make sure your pest guy seals off the holes in your home that the rats entered through so they don't return.

A longer-term solution for Dallas that Evans champions would be to copy a Highland Park law that forces developers to rid vacant houses of all their critters before they're demolished. Otherwise, the animals surely living inside will quickly scurry somewhere else when the vacant building gets torn down. "For rats, they're generally trying to get shelter all the time," Evans says. "If it's unoccupied, animals are going to get inside. It's almost like there's a sign outside of it saying that it's vacant."

Also, rats really like bird food. Do you love birds more than you hate rats? Before buying a bird feeder, ask yourself that question and side with your rat-hatred, or go find a special bird feeder that won't spill the seeds everywhere.