‘cat-sized rats’ and cockroach infestations: how a warm autumn can trigger pest psychosis | Spain

Nancy Berrocal, a florist in the Tirso de Molina neighborhood in central Madrid, points a finger at the flowerbeds. Until 15 days ago, it was growing overgrown and littered with trash: a perfect home for hundreds of cockroaches and rats. They removed the bushes and smoked them. You remember crickets and rats in a creek, and workers would kick them. This fall, Berukal explains, the pests multiply day and night: “The cockroaches keep coming when it gets dark. They go to the terraces [of the bars and cafés] Look for food.” A neighbor, Marcelo Casas, says that “the rats have been completely in the house” and he fears they will return “once the rubbish piles up again.” In the San Cristóbal de los Angeles neighborhood in southern Madrid, “there are rats,” says Adela Crespo. Big as cats” in the buildings. “There are holes in which they nest and come out as soon as night falls.”

Madrid is not an isolated case. According to EZSA, one of the largest companies in the pest control sector, there was an “unprecedented increase in calls” across the country in October about pests in homes, businesses and restaurants. Overall, 2022 has been “phenomenal,” says Ignacio Santamarta, EZSA’s Director of Innovation. In 2021, the company received 17,284 calls; So far in 2022, there have been 28,518, which is an increase of 60%. “There was a very high rate. I’ve never seen increases like this before.

Jorge Galván, director of the National Association of Environmental Health Companies (Anecpla), which represents 85% of companies in the sector, confirmed that this fall had seen a sharp rise in injuries, “quite abnormal for this season”, but Anecpla does not have a study National with data from 566 of its partners. Galvan notes that the EZSA numbers are reliable, but they are biased and unstable, because they only measure the activity of one company.

A plague of rats in a building in Malaga, Spain.video: EZSA

Santamarta says the number of callouts to deal with cockroaches in October was 58.2% higher in Spain than in the same month in 2021, particularly in large cities: 70.1% in Madrid, 59.4% in Valencia, 55% in Barcelona, ​​47.4% in Malaga and 45.6% in Seville. Data accumulated for 2022 indicates a 65% rise nationally compared to last year.

The number of calls due to rat infestation also increased by 52.1% on average – 63.1% in Madrid, 62.8% in Barcelona, ​​49.4% in Valencia, 48.9% in Seville and 42.7% in Malaga – with cumulative increases of 71% on average. In Valencia, the worst outbreak occurred in La Fuensanta, a neighborhood of 3,700 residents in a social housing area built after the 1957 flood. “They are in the sewers and sneak into homes through holes at ground level. They also climb trees and from there they get into apartments.” “The neighborhood is very anxious,” says one resident.

rodent population

In Barcelona, ​​a TikTok video showing dozens of lemmings in the main square of Plaça de Catalunya sparked widespread psychosis in July. After it became viral, the city council covered the area with rat poison, which succeeded in reducing their numbers. By August, the Barcelona Public Health Agency announced that the situation was under control. Barcelona was the first city in Spain to conduct a local rodent census, in 2018, which concluded that there were 259,000 rodents in the city, at a rate of one for every six residents. Barcelona health authorities also acknowledged that complaints about cockroaches increased between May and October. So far this year, there have been 1,000, compared to 800 in 2021, resulting in a 44% increase in the pest control budget and a 51% increase in the number of street prevention teams to 47 people in total.

In Madrid, city officials deny there are more cockroaches now than ever before. A spokesperson for Madrid Salud, the agency responsible for pest control, said that “the data for October is similar to the period 2018-2022” and that there has been a “downward trend” in calls related to insects in recent years. However, Madrid-Salud clarified that its findings refer to two species of sewer cockroach — black or eastern and American — and not the German cockroach, the one that most often affects homes and buildings and on which the EZSA data is based. “Sewage crickets have a very strong seasonality in Madrid and most warnings occur between May and the beginning of August,” the spokesperson adds. “At the end of autumn they are leftovers.” Asked if there was an increase in rodents, Madrid-Salud did not provide an answer.

But it’s not just mice and cockroaches. “There has also been an increase in warnings about flying insects, although less so,” says EZSA. In September, these increased by 35% in Madrid and in October, by 24%. Number two is “surprising,” EZSA says, because these insects are most common in the summer. In October and November, notes Santamarta, “there were reports of bites from tiger mosquitoes and black flies in Spain, at a time when they should be lurking.”

EZSA, Anecpla, and various city councils consulted by these newspapers attributed this spread to meteorological causes: a combination of high temperatures and lack of rain. According to the Spanish Meteorological Agency, October has the highest average temperature since data collection began in 1961, beating the previous record by nearly one degree. The average temperature was 18°C, 3.6° above the normal average, making October the “abnormally warmest month in Spain” since records began. In addition, the precipitation was only two-thirds of the normal levels. From January to October, 2022 was the fourth warmest year since 1961 and the fourth driest.

Although cockroaches and rats are present year-round, Santamarta and Galván explain that this fall were “ideal conditions” for their infestation. At higher temperatures, their reproductive cycles are shortened, so they breed more often and for a longer period, while the larvae and their offspring have more chances of survival. The lack of rain allows crickets to live unhindered in manholes, “because it is drier and there is no water cloud.” The same applies to rodents. Rising temperatures are also causing them to colonize new habitats where previously the cold would have prevented them. Another factor is that we “came out of a pandemic”, during which human presence has been reduced and they “gained a lot of ground”. To exacerbate the situation, control and eradication efforts have been reduced during the coronavirus-related lockdowns.

Gray rats caught with mechanical traps in an undeveloped plot of land in Madrid.
Gray rats caught with mechanical traps in an undeveloped plot of land in Madrid.EZSA

For Galvan, climate change is the main culprit. “We used to have a subtropical climate, but we’re getting closer and closer to a tropical one,” he says, which in turn increases numbers of problematic species and attracts new ones. Rising temperatures are accompanied by other factors, such as changes in migratory movements, globalization and increased tourism. Spain has amazing potential as a vector of zoonotic diseases; In less than 36 hours you can be anywhere on the planet, less time than it takes for the virus to evolve.”

Entomologist Ruben Bueno cites more causes, such as resistance to biocides, which reduces their effectiveness. All referenced sources warn that these pests are not just a nuisance, but a disease transmission. Cockroaches can carry salmonellosis, infectious hepatitis, leprosy, bubonic plague and dysentery, while rats can spread rabies, leptospirosis, plague and typhus in addition to the presence of fleas and ticks.

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