‘Uptown’ and ‘Downtown’ NYC Rats Are Genetically Distinct

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 1, 2017 1:48 pm
(Credit: Gallinago_media/Shutterstock)

(Credit: Gallinago_media/Shutterstock)

If you’re an uptown rat, you don’t associate with the downtown kind.

Segregation is real if you’re a rat in New York City, though likely for more prosaic reasons than in their human counterparts. A recent genetic study of NYC rats found unique populations living in uptown and downtown Manhattan, indicating that they probably don’t interact with each other all that much. 

City of Rats

The project is the work of Fordham University graduate student Matthew Combs, whose dissertation  focused on the city’s rat population and the ways the animals’ close cohabitation with humans has shaped them. As The Atlantic reports, Combs spent two years trapping rats in the city and sequencing their DNA. The work allowed him to track the differences between various populations, and he found that he could map those genetic markers to locations within the city. In the paper, published last week in Molecular Ecology, Combs says he can even distinguish rats from different neighborhoods in Manhattan.

This is because rats don’t often move more than a few blocks during the course of their lives — especially in New York, where food and shelter abound. In Manhattan, midtown forms a natural barrier of sorts; home to bustling areas like Times Square and Fifth Avenue, it doesn’t offer much in the way of living space for the rats.

Another intriguing finding was that the rats of New York City still look most similar to rats in Britain and France. In the cosmopolitan shipping port, rats from all over the world must have arrived via ship, yet the original Western European rats managed to remain dominant.

Combs got his genetic samples from rats trapped all around the city, helped by a crowdsourced rat map. He cut off an inch or so of their tails to obtain the relevant samples, and still has a collection of some 200 frozen in vials. The library of rat DNA could help inform future containment efforts, and offers a look at how the built environment — subways, streets, parks and the like — guides the distribution of wildlife within a city.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals
  • rodentx2

    I used to live in New York, commuting by subway to Manhattan from Queens. And I’ve seen the rats on the subway tracks and elsewhere. They are so savvy! And they are not dirty or nasty, just trying to make a living in a dirty, hostile human-infested habitat. I have nothing against rodents in general, and I admire NYC rats (and pigeons). https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a7f3ae12da65bb4a27901cce0b57f3b327e616256e4e5bb46bb08d9556596570.jpg

    • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

      Three thing in human life are important:

      1) Survive (vs. Auschwitz).
      2) Profit (the Protestant Reformation plus capitalism).
      3) Leave the world a better, more qualified place (versus Social Marxism and gunpoint centralized charity.)

      Your picture sourced the Black Plague. The One True Church lauded rats for being industrious and reproductive, condemning cats as Devil’s familiars..

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    NYC is nothing but rats, Gracie Mansion on down to Sanctuary City on up. Pray for another Ice Age this winter scrubbing Manhattan down to the Battery rather than stopping north of Columbia University and its HUAC feed trough.

  • headonstraight

    Has PETA registered anguish protests against the cutting off of tail parts?

  • Mel_Anosis

    They all came from Jersey. An invasion



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