Part 2: Rats vs. Squirrels: Pests or not Pests

rat and squirrel

As mentioned in the introduction blog, rats are considered a pest that most people want to rid themselves of and do attempt to through various extermination methods.  However, another common urban rodent is not widely seen as a pest that needs to be exterminated, the squirrel.  After being suggested to research this topic, I found several interesting points brought up on the argument of pest or not a pest between these two rodents.  Why do most people seem to consider rats as pests, but not squirrels?  What exactly is the definition of a pest?  Are rats and squirrels viewed differently in different areas?  These are but a few questions I had when beginning to research this topic.  I wanted to look into why rats were considered more of a pest than other animals, especially than another closely related rodent.


One thing that I believe must be done before continuing is defining what a “pest” is.  Originally, when I made the first blog and discussed rats as being a pest, I associated the word more with pestilence, being of more regards to how rats are a common disease carrier.  Merriam-Webster defines a pest as “an animal or insect that causes problems for people especially by damaging crops.”  Which is a very broad and general definition, in which a multitude of animals would fall, including both rats and squirrels.  With this definition in mind, I began to research more into both rodents.



First, I decided to research more into rats and their common view as a pest.  Rats have been viewed as a pest for centuries, according to Dawn Biehler, rats have had a role in human suffering for centuries.  Rats have been known to cause problems for humans for all of history.  As early as the Mongols, people have avoided rats as fear of them carrying diseases.  Rat control has been an issue that has been discussed and attempted for centuries.  Rats destroy property, get into food and trash, chew through cables, and spread diseases, and for these reasons and many more, people see rats as a pest, and rightfully so.


Squirrels on the other hand are typically seen in a much better light.  Most people love squirrels, for whatever their own reasons are.  Even here at Virginia Tech, people love the squirrels, VT squirrels are even a very common topic on some social-medias, such as Yik Yak and snapchat.  Instead of seeing squirrels as a pest, most people seem to see squirrels as cute little animals they would like to (and sometimes try to) have as a pet.  However, there are some groups, especially farmers, which see squirrels as pests.  When researching this topic, I saw countless articles from farmer’s almanac websites and other farming websites discussing how squirrels would destroy crops and become a nuisance.  There are even websites discussing methods of keeping squirrels away from your property.


After doing research on both rodents, it seems like both should be considered as pests by the definition I found.  I believe a common reason the average person does not see squirrels as pests, but do so with rats, is their public opinion.  Rats are just seen as a disgusting animal that is associated with trash, disease, and other awful things, whereas squirrels are still seen just as a cute little animal that eats nuts.  Not many people would consider a rat as a pet; however, many people continually try to domesticate squirrels.  In addition, rats would never be seen in such a good light such as squirrels are on social-medias, such as VT squirrels are.  While there are some efforts to limit squirrel populations, I do not believe it is nearly as big as the effort that cities put to exterminating their rat populations.


Based upon everything I was able to find, it seems that both rats and squirrels are equally as much of pests.  However, it is more of a public opinion on why rats are hated, while squirrels are loved by many.  I think this was an interesting topic to research during this series on rats, I believe it is able to compare and contrast common beliefs about an animal everyone sees as a pest, the rat, to one that not as many people see as a problem, squirrels.  After seeing the multitudes of articles on pest control, I believe the history pest control for rats in itself should be an entire discussion itself.




“Pest.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.


Biehler, Dawn. Pests in the City: Flies, Bedbugs, Cockroaches, and Rats. Seattle, Wash.: U of Washington, 2013. Print.



Part 1: Introduction to Rats in America

Norwegian Rat

Throughout most of American history, one typically would associate rats as the typical urban pest.  People typically associate rats with the dark, dirty parts of the cities, which for the most part is true.  Nevertheless, rats have become a part of the environment of urban landscape.  Which is not necessarily a good thing.  Rats are associated with carrying disease and causing damage.  For all of history rats have been a very negative part of city environments and have been primary hosts for countless diseases.


Through this blog, I will be exploring many different topics about rats and how they have affected, and continue to affect, the environments of the cities across America.  Rats have not always been in the Americas, how did they get here?  How have rats transmitted diseases in cities?  Why have they thrived in the Americas?  How did rats diffused so quickly across the world?  How are cities trying to combat the rat populations?  Who was the Rat King?  These are just a few of the questions I started with and I endeavor to answer by the conclusion of this blog series.


In class, we are pushing into the 20th century and have discussed on multiple occasions diseases and how they have affected America.  I remember on the first or second class it was briefly mentioned about how rats have been an interesting part of the environment, which originally sparked my interest.  However, we have not really touched upon how these diseases have been spread; a source for cities at least is mainly rats.  To me, it is interesting how a species, which originally was not present in the Americas, but now, is the most prominent pest in American cities.


Before I begin to answer the aforementioned questions, I believe rats need to be discussed more as a species in general.  According to Sullivan, the Rattus norvegicus, more commonly known as the Norway or brown rat, is the most common species of rat found in American cities, especially New York City.  The Norway rat is described as a stocky, grey or brown rat with two sharp yellow incisors.  These rats typically dig tunnels to their nests and to help them navigate around the city, while other rats are found typically where their name suggests, for example sewer rats and alley rats.  When not found digging, they are typically found gnawing or feeding on trash, wires, and plants.  This can cause many problems in an urban environment in which most of everything we use today runs off electricity, which requires wiring, a favorite of rats to gnaw on and destroy.


As mentioned previously, rats are not native to the Americas.  Their roots can be followed back to Asia where they then spread across Asia and then eventually to Europe.  By 1800, the Norway rat had settled most of Europe.  They were then brought to the Americas via ships bringing people and supplies, and by 1926, they were in every single state in the United States.  The Norway rat eventually pushed out almost every other type of rat from cities in the Americas, including the Black rat.  Now these two species of rats only cohabitate in certain areas; including Southern port cities and California, where they can nest in other places such as palm trees.


In the subsequent blog posts, I wish to delve deeper into the role rats pay in the environments of cities.  I want to explore the different kinds of diseases rats carry directly as well as indirectly.  How rats have diffused across the world so rapidly.  How much damage do rats cause in cities, as well as who is responsible for maintaining the things they destroy.  How cities try to monitor and reduce the rat populations as well as what has made the rat population the dominant species of rodent.  In addition, I wish to discuss the history of rat fights and the underground system of betting that was involved with the fights.  Another interesting topic that will be discussed is the difference in rats and squirrels, both of which are rodents, but one is considered a pest that needs to be killed while the latter is seen in a much better light.




Picture from:


Sullivan, Robert.  Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants.  Bloomsbury Publishing, 2008.