New York City has many urban legends: There are alligators in the sewer, buried treasure on Liberty Island, affordable apartments in Brooklyn. But one of the most persistent has to do with the rat population. The old figure goes that there’s a rat for every person living here. As of 2013, the population of New York is around 8.4 million, which would translate to, honestly, just far too many rats for us to think about without fleeing to Oklahoma in horror. But good news, from a Ph.D student at Columbia: New York City only(?) has about two million rats.
Jonathan Auerbach, who is studying statistics for his doctorate, submitted a prize-winning paper tot he Royal Statistical Society of London calculating the number of rats in the city. Auerbach used the rat complaints from 311 call logs, and determined that there were about 40,500 rat-infested lots in the city. With 40 to 50 rats per colony, Auerbach rounded up and concluded that the rat population actually hovered around 2 million.
Of course, it’s not an exact number, for a lot of good reasons. The health department, for example “is unlikely to approve a large-scale rat-releasing experiment (I know because I asked),” Auerbach wrote to the New York Times. Plus: “Animals are terrible survey respondents.”
So no, you’re not likely to meet your rat doppelganger out there. But two million rats? That is actually a whole lot more rats than we’d like, particularly when the little critters are known carriers of diseases, and diseases (like, say, Ebola) have been very much on the public mind lately. Last month, Comptroller Scott Stringer noted that complaints about rats in the city have gone way, way up, thanks in part to the Health Department’s failure to follow protocols to eliminate the pests. Plus, city rats are known to carry a high number of pathogens. So maybe let’s try to get that population down even further, guys? We’d really appreciate it.