Cities are switching to “smart” rat control

Forget toxic pesticides: The next generation of urban rodent control relies on internet-connected traps that shock or impale a rat or mouse before isolating it in a chamber for disposal.

Why it matters: Rat complaints have surged in the aftermath of pandemic lockdowns, and cities are cracking down with renewed vociferousness, appointing “rat czars” and prioritizing citizen complaints about rodents.

  • The new Internet of Things (IoT) rat traps, which can be placed above ground or in sewers, continuously transmit data about rodent conditions and the number of animals caught.
  • The information helps cities and businesses tamp down the rodent population without using noxious chemicals, which are bad for the environment and local wildlife.
  • Technicians are sent out to clear traps whenever a rat has been “dispatched” (the pest control industry’s preferred euphemism for “killed”).

What they’re saying: Smart technology is “changing the pest control industry,” says Dana Cote, director of SMART operations for Anticimex, which specializes in digital vermin control.

  • The industry has been “somewhat static for many decades, using the same tools and materials,” he said. But now “we have the opportunity to use IoT devices and data analytics and AI to really be more proactive than reactive.”

When heavy rat populations are detected through a smart trap — thanks to 24/7 data collection and analytics — the city or surrounding businesses are advised to take steps like securing dumpsters, adding sanitation runs, or eliminating rat “harborages” (hidey holes).

  • “It gives us information to take a more holistic approach to rodent control rather than just being reactive — ‘I saw something, we killed it, okay, it’s gone, next one,'” Cote tells Axios. “It’s more of an educational process as well.”

Driving the news: While smart traps with internet-connected sensors have been taking off in Europe, they’re just starting to hit the US, with a handful of cities signing up for alternatives to the traditional extermination method — rat poison.

  • Somerville, Massachusetts, has just started a five-month pilot program with Modern Pest Services, which is owned by Anticimex. It’s spending $40,000 to install 50 SMART Boxes in four neighborhoods, per Smart Cities Dive.
  • The boxes are above-ground “multi-catch” devices — meaning they can catch a lot of mice and rats — and use “fibrillation” to kill them.
  • “It basically shocks their heart out of working and then disposes of them into a contained container within the device itself,” Cote says. “So that eliminates a lot of secondary pest issues, like flies and, you know, sightings and all of that.”

Portland, Maine, is using an underground system from Modern Pest Services that works within the city’s sewer pipes.

  • Cote says the devices dispatch their prey with “basically — I don’t want to say blunt force trauma, but essentially, I would say spears would be the appropriate term.”
  • Dead rodents are washed away by the flow in the system — unlike conventional extermination methods, no poison or bait is used.
  • Portland “has had close to 1,000 captures since the 40 rat-trapping devices were installed on April 1, 2021, around the city,” according to Route Fifty, a publication for state and local government leaders.

Cambridge, MA, may also give IoT rat control a try.

A SMART Box internet-connected rodent trap at an outdoor seating area.
The SMART Box looks a bit like a garbage pail. Photo courtesy of Anticimex

What’s next: The extermination industry is trying to develop IoT devices for cockroaches and other insects.

  • Rodent control “is the Internet of Things’ first foray into the pest management industry, but probably not the last, as developers also aim to reinvent bird and insect control with this technology,” reports Pest Control Technology, a trade publication.

Rated out: Orkin, the extermination company, publishes a list of the “rattiest” cities and the most recent one placed Chicago first, followed by Los Angeles, New York, Washington, DC, and San Francisco.

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