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Eeeek! Rats! // City scurries to limit them

(ran East, South editions)

Rats are scurrying around Old Northeast.

While some point to fruiting date palms along Coffee Pot Boulevard as the source of the problem, city officials aren't so sure.

Mary Campbell, park operations manager, said although they have noticed a little bit of increased activity citywide, rats are always present. "They're just another wildlife," said Campbell. "They stay pretty much out of people's way."

Dan Morgan, sanitation administrative assistant, said he has seen no increase in calls from the Old Northeast area.

"We've been putting rat poison out like mad," said Nancy Jones, who lives on Coffee Pot Boulevard. "I didn't think of the trees. I attributed it to a change in weather or seasonal change."

The 54 Medjool date palms were planted around December 1994 as part of the formally adopted North Shore neighborhood plan. They cost $1,800 apiece mostly because of their 20-foot size, according to Tim Baker, association president at the time.

Whether the trees are the problem, the city's sanitation department can assist residents in getting rid of rats. Two full-time rodent control officers treated the exterior of 5,300 premises during the last fiscal year. The service is free for sanitation customers. It is included in residents' monthly bill for garbage and sewer.

After a resident signs a hold-harmless agreement giving permission to trespass and treat a property, control officers place bait stations around the exterior. Pets and children are warned to avoid baited areas. It takes a week to 10 days to see results.

Morgan said treatment is multifaceted and recommends interior treatment as well by either the resident or a private pest control company. "It's like a table. It's got to have all legs to stand up."

To rodent-proof, residents should plug holes around cable wires and dented soffits, mow grass regularly and cover garbage. Rats build nests like a squirrel and are especially active at dusk, traveling by phone wires or roof tops. Commercial glue boards and snap traps are usually effective in catching inside rats.

The rat found in St. Petersburg has many names. It's called roof, house, fruit or citrus, black and gray belly but Morgan says it's all the same rat. It weighs about 7 ounces and from tail to the tip of its nose the rodent is 7-10 inches long. It differs from the bigger sewer rat found in the northeastern United States.

"People feed birds and squirrels which really adds to the problem," Campbell said. North Straub Park is particularly susceptible. Rats also love banyan trees and, of course, fruit trees.

Here's help

If you have problems with rats and need assistance, call the city's rodent control at 893-7360.