Rat wars

Hiya Islam | Published: 00:00, Dec 16,2018

Science for youth

- mentalfloss

Rodents are gnawing mammals. Think of ugly rats and their slightly better-looking cousin, mice. Absolutely repelling creatures. Squirrels and hamsters charm their way right into your heart, though. Rats are known to invade pantries, contaminate human food and spread diseases. Remember, the Black Death? Consequences can be such that an entire Canadian province like, Alberta officially declared a war on rats back in 1950. It has been almost 70 years that the region is rat-free. Alberta (which is nearly the size of France), the first victor to overcome the problem of rat infestation is still waging a war on these pesky critters as they can invade tomorrow as much as they could in the past. And victory was a far-fetched idea without the use of tonnes and tonnes of rodenticides.

Rodenticides, better known as rat poison, are a group of chemical compounds used to terminate rodents but is also potentially dangerous when exposed to other beings, pets and babies alike. Anticoagulants are one of the active ingredients used in the poison. Such poisons contain 4-hydroxycoumarin and indandione that induce blood vessels to rupture. Also, vitamin K inhibitors that strive to stall the production of the vitamin, a key component in the blood clotting pathway. So, when rats bleed, they don’t cease to bleed. They ultimately die due to internal bleeding or hemorrhage.

Phosphides are another top choice by pest inspectors and controllers. Phosphides can be in conjugation with zinc, calcium or aluminum. In the end, all of the salts end up in the stomach where they react with gastric acid to form a toxic gas, phosphine. It is analogous to pumping the animal with gas until it bloats up and dies. The carcass in this case needs to be handled with caution as it filled with toxic phosphine. Any animal that consumes it will be poisoned as well.

The third poison is plain vitamin D. This vitamin is essential for proper absorption of calcium in the body. Therefore, when in excess it leads to hypercalcemia, a condition where calcium levels are so high that the heart, lungs, kidneys etc. get calcified. It can be coupled with anticoagulants for better kill rates.

Lastly, there is bromethalin, the most potent of them all. It is a neurotoxin, a non-anticoagulant and a single-dose rodenticide. Unlike other poisons, bromethalin is popular for its quick kills (1-2 days). It interferes with the energy production in nerve cells. Technically, the mode of action involves uncoupling the oxidative phosphorylation during respiration thereby halting ATP production.

But the secret to winning the war does not only rely on a bunch of chemicals. The Canadian state of Alberta is the only jurisdiction to have a dedicated rat patrol on duty. Even, a rat hotline for citizens is there to report any sightings of the creature or infestations. A “rat-free” area does not necessarily mean there won’t be any rats. It implies to the fact there is no breeding population in existence. The rats live and die alone.

Hiya Islam is a student of BRAC University

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