Monday, 9 May 2016

New way to smell a rat means end for rodents

Date: April 11, 2016
Source: Simon Fraser University

Simon Fraser University scientists have developed a new way to exterminate rats by identifying and synthetically replicating the male brown rat's sex pheromone. The chemical is a powerful attractant for luring female brown rats into traps.

At a time when rat populations around the world are inflicting serious harm, understanding rat behaviour and preferences is important. Rats spread disease and allergens, diminish agricultural crop yields, and threaten animals and endangered seabirds. The brown rat is the world's most common rat, and its population is growing, in part because rats have evolved to avoid newly placed traps in their natural habitat.

SFU biologists Gerhard Gries, Stephen Takács and Regine Gries, research chemist Huimin Zhai say their latest pheromone discovery overcomes that trap-avoidance behaviour. In the lab, and in field experiments, female brown rats readily enter trap boxes baited with the male brown rat's sex pheromone.

"We're beginning to speak rat," says Gerhard Gries, professor of biological sciences and NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Multimodal Animal Communication Ecology at SFU.
"We're beginning to understand their pheromones (chemical attractants), we understand their sound communication and can reproduce it, and we understand their food preferences."

The discovery forms part of a promising three-pronged rat control tactic the researchers are developing that exploits the rats' own communication system. It promises to enhance rat capture tenfold or more, and to eliminate poison-bait stations that kill rats and the predators that eat them.

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