Rats, a common pest, are a constant source of worry for many households around the world. Now, researchers have used the animals’ own sex pheromones to trap and get rid of these rodents.

The brown rat is the most common worldwide, with a growing population partly due to their ability to avoid traps placed in their natural habitat. Scientists from the Simon Fraser University in Canada then identified and synthetically replicated the male brown rat’s sex pheromone to lure female brown rats into traps.

In their laboratory and field experiments, target female rats willingly entered trap boxes laced with the powerful chemical from their male peers.

"We're beginning to understand their pheromones (chemical attractants), we understand their sound communication and can reproduce it, and we understand their food preferences," reported lead researcher and biologist Gerhard Gries.

The team is employing a three-part rat control program that harnesses the creatures’ own communication system. They have built an electronic device with a special algorithm to randomly and sporadically replicate the pups’ vocalizations, and then developed a food bait that induces feeding and triggers the rats’ capture.

The combination of the sex pheromones, sounds, and food bait are expected to remove the rats’ resistance to and disgust for trap boxes, promising a tenfold increase in capture rates. This technique also does away with poisons that could kill not just rats but also their predators.

Rats could spread allergens and disease, seriously wound crop yields in agriculture, and threaten endangered seabirds and other species.

This pest control research comes a year after the team announced their bedbug trap project, which is currently being mass-produced.

The findings were published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

A study in Baltimore, Maryland, in March showed that residents in low-income neighborhoods who considered rats a big problem in their area were more likely to suffer from depression and symptoms such as anxiety and sadness.

These same communities plagued by rodents were also hit hard by urban issues such as drugs, vacant housing, and robbery threats, yet the findings on rats’ presence emerged as independent of these factors.

An Instagram video, on the other hand, made rounds on the internet earlier this month when it showed a giant rat crawling on a sleeping New York subway commuter’s neck, nudging him awake. The video raised fresh concerns on sanitation and rat infestation.

Photo: Sonja Pauen | Flickr

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