The Florida Keys is one America’s most beloved vacation spots. It has been home to historians and celebrities like famed author Ernest Hemingway, and singer songwriter Jimmy Buffet. But there is a new group in town and they aren’t so welcome. Gambian Pouch rats have taken over Grassy Key.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the rats were breed on Grassy Key by a resident for several years, and in 2000 the resident released six or seven. Surprisingly, the rats were bred as pets and can grow as large as 35 inches long and as heavy as nine pounds. Those released began multiplying quickly, as female rats can have five litters per year with an average of four rats per litter.
The FWC believed they had the rat problem under control in 2009, with a focused effort to capture them using cages baited with peanut butter and cantaloupe. In 2011, calls came in reporting new sightings of the huge rodents. The rats have made the news again according to an article in the Miami Herald. The FWC is once more receiving calls.
FWC Nonnative-wildlife Biologist Jenny Eckles stated in the article that it is really hard to eliminate every rat from the island. The FWC is working with several landowners to position traps on private property and finally end the problem.
Grassy Key residents are notably concerned about the rat problem. Wild rats can carry diseases like leptospirosis, salmonellosis, and rat-bite fever that can be transferred to humans.