There’s all manner of trash on New York City streets, especially in the pandemic era, so spotting what looks like a bit of crumpled-up plastic or a soiled paper towel is no big deal. But walking through the city as of late, you might be eyeing that bit of litter in the middle of the road only to realize that it has, or had, a tail. It’s the morbidly fascinating — and/or just plain gross — sight of the summer: the flat rat.
Rats have likely been the city’s dominant roadkill since the time of the Model T. But whether it’s the increase in drivers or simply the head-high walls of trash bags piled in areas with reduced pickups, gray-fur-and-red-innards splotches on our streets seem more a part of city life than ever before. On one Brooklyn block the other day, one of our editors spotted a dozen; a bicyclist friend reports routinely having to swerve around them. (It’s bad to run over even the flattest rat.) On a recent Sunday in west Chelsea, one block lined with art galleries had four rats that were very freshly turned into Jackson Pollock knockoffs, according to a 24-year resident of the neighborhood who’d never seen such rodent carnage there. Just this morning, she saw three more along a four-block run of West 25th Street.
It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to pin down what’s going on with New York’s massive rat population at any given time. (Perpetual case in point: No one really agrees on how many rats there are.) But after 2020, when restaurant trash disappeared almost overnight and effectively created a famine among rodent packs, the rats appear to have recovered. Right now, according to rodentologist Bobby Corrigan, this is the time of year when rats born over the winter make their first forays out of the nest. “Because they are young and inexperienced, they sometimes make themselves visible at odd times and in new spaces,” he said. Including, perhaps, under the tires of a taxi.