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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Rats are invading many residential areas in the Salt Lake Valley, stripping trees of ripe fruit and chowing down on pet food.
The Salt Lake Valley Health Department has been deluged with rat complaints after wet winter and spring weather pushed the rodents out of their usual hangouts in creek beds, said inspector Brian Reid.
"We've had a ton of 'em in every area," he said. "We've even had complaints from Olympus Cove and some people say, 'How dare you say I have rats in my yard.' "
But many people unwittingly attract the vermin.
"If you put out food and water for your dog, you are actually feeding the rats," Reid said. "If you put out food for your cat, you're feeding the rats. And if you have a bird feeder that allows the seeds to fall to the ground, you are feeding the rats."
Rats like places with lots of foliage and water, said Dan Saracino at Pay Less Pest Control Inc. "They really seem to like Holladay."
Getting rid of rats is difficult because "they're pretty darn smart," he said.
Pest-control specialists set up traps with poison bait to rid residences of the rodents.
"They only take a small part of the bait," Saracino said. "If it makes them sick, they will stay away from it. You have to use real expensive bait that kills them with just a nibble."
A full-grown brown rat is often as big as 10 inches long with a six-inch tail.
Rattus norvegicus -- the brown rat -- is a nonnative species that has lived around human populations for centuries, said Eric Rickart, curator of vertebrates at the University of Utah's Museum of Natural History.
The rodents probably arrived in the Salt Lake Valley just after the Mormon pioneers. They don't survive in nature well but because Utah's winters are relatively mild they have flourished near human populations.
The brown rat's cousin, the black rat, is the culprit that brought the bubonic plague to Europe during several historical outbreaks. But the brown rat does not appear to pose a significant disease risk to humans.
The rat population may be surging, but it is practically impossible to get an accurate count, Rickart said.
"All I can say is, there are a lot of them, and it would be impossible to eradicate them from Salt Lake City," he said.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)