What Kind Of Rats Are In New York?

New York is famous for their rats. Anyone from New York or anyone that has visited New York will gladly tell you about the rats of New York that are the size of cats! Unless they are actually seeing a cat, Norway rats are the most common rat in New York City.

It could actually be a rhetorical question straight from a proud New Yorker, “What kind of rats are in New York City? The biggest rats in the entire world! That’s what kind of rats are in New York City.” Of course, I left out the expletives but you get the point.

New Yorkers are proud people (and rightly so, I might add). Along with their pizza and skyscrapers, New Yorkers are proud of their rats. But just like most New Yorkers, they came to New York as immigrants. However, they are not actually Norwegians!

Some rat archaeologists believe Norway rats originally came from Northern China and their insane adaptability let to to Norway where they then jumped some ships and headed to the United States…though this is still up for debate.

The Norway rats that live in New York City go by many names. Though many subscribe to the saying, a rat by any other name is still a rat. However, Norway rats are known to scientists as Rattus Norvegicus. These big furry creatures are also known as brown rat, wharf rat, sewer rat, water rat, Parisian rat and common rat.

Many times, what the rat is called is just a matter of where it is spotted, such as a sewer rat or wharf rat. But to be most specific, it Rattus Norvegicus. What you call it is up to you. As someone that has been in the pest control industry for 3 decades, unless you are talking to a scientist, we call them Norway rats.

Regardless of what you call them, Norway rats are spread throughout the world with the exceptions of Antarctica, some remote islands and a rumor has it, Alberta, Canada.

It is widely believed the Norway rat originated from Northern China, but exactly how or why it was named the Norway rat is up for fierce debate…among those with time on their hands. It is clear the Norway rats is not from Norway. We also know that Norway rats also seem to prefer to travel by ship and seem to especially thrive around seaports, this makes New York the perfect port in their storm.


When it comes to rats, size only matters for the story. A good story is always better when the teller has a New York accent and get vividly tell you how large the rats are in New York. But the truth is, New York Norway rats are no bigger than any other Norway rat in any other part of the world. In my line of work, I often talk to people that are quite proud to tell me how large their rats, raccoons or roaches are, but the size of Norway rats seems to be pretty consistent.

But make no mistake, Norway rats get big! Just not necessarily “cat big”. Of course, a pregnant rat is also a bigger rat by comparison to it’ peers but I would not classify it as a abnormally giant rats just because it is pregnant.

Video of dogs catching rats in New York

What Is The Problem With Rats?

“What is the problem with rats” is normally what an animal lover says that has never had to live with rats. Rats are a serious problem.

The most pressing concern with rats, especially living in an area like New York City where you have almost 9 million people is disease; most notably, the plague.

Often laughed off as some old timey disease that would never harm anyone these days, however the bubonic plague still occurs. In 2017 it killed people in Madagascar and in 2018 it even showed up in Idaho where it killed a young boy. The plague has killed millions and millions of people and still kills roughly 200 people a year.

Typically Norway rats get the blame for spreading the plague but they do not act alone. Along with the nefarious rat flea, when the rat flea and the Norway rat pair us, there is trouble to be had.

But recently, there have been some squirmishes as to who is really guilty for the plague. There have been 3 different “pandemics” or massive plague outbreaks though 9 “outbreaks” have been recently studies and there are some strong signs suggesting that neither rats nor rat fleas are not to blame for the outbreaks but rather human parasites. This is by no means settled science and has caused many scientists in the infectious disease community to throw down to get to the bottom of who the real killer is.

Again, with nearly 9 million people packed into NYC, it is in your best interest to know who or what might be responsible for the next mass serial killing.

All in all, rats are responsible for around 35 different diseases and afflictions. According to the CDC, diseases directly transmitted to humans include:

  • Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome
  • Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome
  • Lassa Fever
  • Leptospirosis
  • Lymphocytic Chorio-meningitis (LCM)
  • Omsk Hemorrhagic Fever
  • Plague
  • Rat-Bite Fever
  • Salmonellosis
  • South American Arenaviruses (Argentine hemorrhagic fever, Bolivian hemorrhagic fever, Sabiá-associated hemorrhagic fever, Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever)
  • Tularemia

And who can forget those lovely pathogens indirectly transmitted to human?

  • Babesiosis
  • Colorado Tick Fever
  • Cutaneous Leishmaniasis
  • Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis
  • La Crosse Encephalitis
  • Lyme Disease
  • Murine Typhus
  • Omsk Hemorrhagic Fever
  • Powassan Virus
  • Scrub Typhus
  • Rickettsialpox
  • Relapsing Fever
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • Sylvatic Typhus
  • West Nile Virus

Rat feces are also known to trigger asthma attacks as well in some people.


Rats destroy. That is the problem with having rats. Sure, they are cute and cuddly, but they destroy all that is good. Even if you can put up with the threat of mass disease, it’s the destruction that might get you in the end.

First, rats incisors (front teeth) never stop growing and to stop them from growing up through their skull they must always be chewing or gnawing of something…basically anything.

Wires are always on the “Menu Of Chew” and rats have been responsible for a great many of fires.

As a professional rat trapper, I have seen many wires chewed and I’ve been shocked on two occasions when accidently touching chewed, exposed wires. This is how fires happen and a fire in New York City is bad news.

Rats also like to chew on wood and this includes doorways. Rats will readily chew thresholds on of doors and give themselves entrance into buildings. From there, rats will invade and take over. Once rats invade, they head to the food. Rats are commonly spotted on kitchen counters eating leftover food and chowing down on the bananas in the fruit bowls.

Rats also readily travel up and down, side to side by following the pipes and wires inside walls. Though roof rats are better climbers, Norway rats will not hesitate to climb so just because you live higher than the first floor does not mean you are safe from rats.

Another lovely aspect of having rats is the smell and the skid marks. Yes, rats actually leave skid marks. More accurately called “smudge marks”, rats drag their bellies everywhere they go. They also have very oily skin and in areas they frequent where their bodies often touch, like corners and edges, they will leave a smudge mark. So your home will be decorated with little brown skid marks all over.  

It’s not just the smudge marks. Rats spray urine and drop droppings everywhere they go. Rats make their presence abundantly clear with their droppings. This is a recipe for disaster when food gets contaminated.

That old urban legend about rats coming up through the toilet? I’m sorry to break it to you, it’s true. While it is not common, when people wonder if rats come up through toilets, as if you don’t have enough to worry about, now you need to be concerned with rats giving you a midnight’s surprise. Always check the toilet before taking a seat.

Q. How do you know if you have Norway rats?

  1. In some cases it’s obvious, there are bites taken out of the bananas on the counter and there are droppings everywhere. Many people will hear the rats in the walls, attic or ceiling. Scratching and chewing are the most common noise complaints. Occasionally, it will sound like the are dropping things.

          Many times, people will object to the suggestion they are hearing rats, insisting the animal in question is much bigger than a rat.

Q. What do Norway rats eat?

  1. Norway rats are omnivores and will eat just about anything edible. Given a preference, Norway rats chose protein over sugars but this is not a hard and fast Norway rat rule.

Q. Can Norway rats collapse their bones?

  1. Contrary to what many believe, rats do not have the superhero like ability to collapse their bones. Rats can sneak through tiny openings and when possible they will readily chew the opening to make it larger but they cannot collapse their bones.

Q. Can Norway rats swim?

  1. Norway rats are excellent swimmers! Swimming allows them to thrive in many underground sewers. Unfortunately, it is the ability to swim, even under water, to appear in toilets.

Dusty Showers has been in the urban nuisance wildlife and pest control field since 1993. Taught by Garon Fyffe, a pioneer in humane nuisance wildlife management, Dusty has a passion for finding humane solutions to human & wildlife conflicts. Dusty was the only individual invited by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission in the lat 1990's to help write legislation for legal protection of Florida bats. With an instinct for solving wildlife, Dusty found pest control to be an easy "add-on interest". Dusty started his first business "Animal Instincts Wildlife & Pest Management" in the Tampa Bay, Florida area in 1995. Eventually selling Animal Instincts in 2002, Dusty went on to start Creepy Creatures Termite and Pest Control in 2009, which he still owns and operates today in Palm Harbor, Florida.


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