Humans have a long, usually unpleasant history with rats, and they generally… (Julie Jacobson / Associated…)
Reporting from Atlanta — The pilgrims flock to greater Orlando by the millions, arriving by plane and by minivan to worship the beloved rodent.
But these days, another kind of rodent -- one without the fetching smile, the four-fingered gloves or the happy, yelpy little voice -- is plaguing the lives of locals.
It goes by the name Rattus rattus, the black rat, and it's having a banner season in Orange County, Fla., home of Orlando, Disney World and Mickey Mouse.
David Breen of the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Orange County Health Department has received 45 calls about rats since the start of February. Usually the department gets "one call every couple of weeks" at this time of year, Breen wrote.
He offered a number of theories for Orlando's rat boom. Maybe it's the warm winter, which meant that not so many rats were killed by the cold. Maybe road projects disturbed nests.
Or maybe it's the housing crisis: Even though foreclosure filings fell 68% in greater Orlando last year, according to the Orlando Business Journal, market watchers note that one in 46 homes in the area were subject to a foreclosure filing in 2011. Many homes are vacant and not kept up like they once were -- prime clubhouses for Rattus rattus.
Justin Idle, a rat-trapping "field technician" for a company called Wildlife Solutions, shared a personal theory with the Sentinel. Many people are still out of work -- Florida's unemployment rate was 9.9% in December -- and spending more time at home as a result.
That means more time to hear the scamper of little feet.
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