Rat population increase easy to trace and to fix

info@islandpacket.comNovember 29, 2012 

Saturday's story about marsh rats addressed an important Hilton Head Island problem

As a zoologist who has done independent work and as a surgeon informed about infectious disease, I find the explanations provided by the local pest control people to be amateurish and wrong.

Our rat population exceeds the normal of four per acre due to a loss of natural predators, the most effective being the barn owl. The presence and effectiveness of owls is diminished due to excess night lighting. Decaying vegetation existing on aging lots encourages the rat population as they use it for nest sites and food. The presence of rattlesnakes will likely increase as these predators are finding lunch with few competitors.

Tides do not impact these semi-aquatic rodents; they swim very well and nest in dry uplands. In discussing the cotton rat (a less frequently used term for the marsh rat, also called the rice rat), Todd Ballantine's book "Tideland Treasure" warns about these increases in rat and rattlesnake populations on Hilton Head. These principles are well known but ignored by uninformed administrators.

If Hilton Head wants to avoid an ever-increasing number of rats, we need to eliminate night lighting and reintroduce barn owls by placing nest boxes in large grassy areas. One pair of barn owls with an average clutch of four to six will devour 1,000 rats per month. Doing nothing will give us the same rat problem as Manhattan. Leptospirosis is more frequently transmitted by rats than Hanta virus and is equally life threatening.

Richard Bolt

Hilton Head Island

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