It was a few days after Christmas, and I’d just brought my car in for service. That morning, out of the blue, it had started misfiring.
I slid into the seat of Magic Toyota’s courtesy car eager to tell my story to the first person I saw. Only moments earlier the mechanic had given me the disgusting, exhilarating news. I turned to the middle-aged Somali driver who must have been expecting me to give him my address and announced, “They found a rat’s nest in my engine.”
I pulled the car door shut and continued. “They said the nest was this big.” I spread my hands about fifteen inches apart and looked at the space between them with renewed amazement. “The rat gnawed some wires clear through.”
The damage was going to cost me $500 plus tax. And yet, there’s something pleasing about having a good story to tell … even if it actually is a bad story.
The driver smiled. “Last week,” he said, “a woman came in with a big nest in her engine. And,” he added, topping my tale, “there were five baby rats in it.” He shook his head. “The woman never even looked at her engine.”
He shook his head again as though that detail puzzled him. But really! Who looks under the hood? I certainly don’t.
That afternoon, following the advice of Toyota’s mechanic, I went looking for mothballs. A helpful clerk at Bartell Drugs showed me to the correct aisle. I picked up the box of mothballs and told him my rat story. Not surprisingly, he had his own story to tell.
One morning, he said, his new Lexus wouldn’t start, and he had to have it towed to the garage. When the mechanic got back to him, the first thing he asked was where the man kept his dog food.
“In the garage,” he answered.
The mechanic nodded. “It looks like a rat filched about two pounds of the dog’s food and dragged it up your tailpipe.”
That night I mentioned my rat problem on Kate’s blog: Views and Mews. In the comments section, Kate and then Nancy shared tales of other gnawing critters: field mice getting into a heat pump and squirrels doing damage to the neighbors’ cars, $5000 damage in one case.
During the last couple of years, the Seattle area seems to be having a particularly big rat problem. So why are there so many more rats here than there used to be?
Here are some possible explanations:
- Global warming. Usually rats stop breeding in the winter. If it’s too cold, some of them don’t survive. But Pacific Northwest winters are becoming warmer. And when one female rate can give birth to up to 150 offspring in a single year, a few extra months of breeding results in quite a few extra rats.
- Unlike many cities, Seattle has two kinds of rats: Norway rats that burrow and live in sewers and roof rats that live in trees, vines, and attics. We have a great habitat for both of them–lots of trees for the roof rats and lots of green space and soft soil for the Norway rats. Plus we have streams and water retention ponds for both of them.
- Our construction boom. The Seattle area is undergoing a growth spurt. Over the past couple of years, an average of 236 people moved here every single day. This summer there were 58 construction cranes in Seattle, more than in any other city in America. When you knock down old buildings or build on abandoned properties, the rats that used to live there rush out and find a new home … perhaps in your basement or attic or nice warm car engine.
So I guess that’s why we’re beginning to notice the once-hidden presence of rats. As for my own attempts to solve the problem … this afternoon an exterminator is coming to set some traps in my garage. Wish me luck.
Have you had any run-ins with rats or other gnawing critters?