The Hunger Games: Rodents scavenge for food


We know the pandemic quarantine and business changes this year led to changes in rodent sightings and interactions in urban markets across the country. But we don’t know for certain that populations have increased. Ultimately, it’s the interactions with pests that must be avoided, by preventing pest introductions whenever possible and eliminating activity when prevention methods are overcome.

In fact, the circumstances we’re facing aren’t new; there are just more changes happening at an exponentially faster pace. Consider the following:

  • There isn’t anything unique about a restaurant closing. Likewise, it is not unusual for a restaurant that shuts down — either temporarily or permanently — to become a problem for its neighbors. Rodents that used to feed on garbage around dumpsters, sneak in the back door for food or shelter, and exploit common void spaces and structural defects inevitably go looking to neighboring buildings to find food. The difference during the pandemic is, entire cities started closing restaurants, bars, college campuses, etc.
  • The suddenness caused stress. Most establishments closed in an orderly fashion (more or less). They removed food supplies and cleaned up before locking the doors. From the perspective of potentially lowering the likelihood of out-of-control cockroach and rodent activity inside restaurants, those steps were quite helpful. Still, the sudden removal of food inside and in the trash bins likely caused significant stress on rodent populations dependent on that food, water and shelter sources.
  • The public notices populations as “new.” As for the variance in sightings and interactions, it is reasonable to expect cities that have restaurant districts, or malls that have restaurants that rely heavily on dine-in service, would experience a rapid dispersal of rodents into new areas. But it is equally reasonable that, with so many people sheltered-in-place when they would normally be out and about, rodent sightings would increase. The populations themselves may not have even changed, but now people are home to see what’s been going on at home while they were away at work.


In light of the variability and uncertainty, as the pandemic continues to affect reports of rodent populations heading into colder weather, PMPs need to simply focus on the fundamentals of professional pest prevention.

The first step is to perform an assessment of the areas around the client’s facility. Start by looking at the surrounding area. Ask yourself questions like: What is happening around my client’s property? Are there closed businesses nearby? Are any of those businesses food-related? What is happening environmentally? Is trash being collected? Are there manmade harborage areas created by neighboring properties being neglected?

The next step is to inspect the client’s building, as well as its personnel practices, to identify exclusion and behavioral modification opportunities. As our focus should be on preventing infestations rather than pest elimination, all structural defects (such as holes around utility penetrations), and behavioral deficiencies (such as employees leaving vulnerable doors open) must be accounted for and corrected.

Be sure to exercise your intellectual curiosity, and look at the building overall and in parts. If you find utility penetrations in the ceiling void, for example, but there are no other indications where the utilities enter from, ask the client for more information.

Case in point: I helped troubleshoot a commercial account built on an old gas station property. No one knew the tanks were still in the ground and the chamber had eroded, providing rats with a large harborage. The rats chewed through “buried” conduit and ranged freely up into the ceiling void. It took a lot of persistence to learn this fact, and even more to do something about it.

Find out whether there are locked or blocked areas at the account, and work with the client to gain safe access. Learn whether the structure is connected to other structures, even if it’s just a common wall in the basement. Work with your client to find out who is in control of the other properties, and whether they use professional pest management providers. Work collaboratively with all parties — even a competitor — when it is in the best interests of your clients and public health.

About the Author

Baldwin is the VP of Technical Services for Hawx Pest Control. He can be reached at

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