Scientists have outwitted the crafty rat with a stimulating new formula that puts sex on the brain.
A team at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., has developed a rat trap that combines synthetic sex pheromones, food scents and baby rat sounds to lure rodents to their deaths.
The bait has proven 10 times more powerful than traditional traps and could be commercialized in about two years, said principal investigator Gerhard Gries.
“Rats are really intelligent, and in order to manipulate them you have to be intelligent as well, and do that in a way that addresses their needs,” said Gries, a communication ecologist in the department of biological sciences.
“It smells delicious, it smells like rat and it sounds like rat.”
Humans have waged war against the pests for more than 10,000 years, said Gerhard Gries, noting they spread disease, reduce agricultural crop yields and threaten endangered animal species.
But rats are quick learners that have evolved to avoid traps, a behaviour called “neophobia,” he said.
The new trap overrides rodent smarts using a synthetic sex chemical that replicates the pheromones, or chemical messengers, of sexually mature male brown rats. It’s a powerful attractant for female brown rats, Gries said.
Also blended into the bait are aromas of food sources most craved by rats, such as nuts, cheeses and cereals, and electronic sound recordings of rat pups. The fabricated cries trigger the maternal instinct in female rats, Gries said, while male rats will approach the bait believing they’ve discovered a meal.
The trap is styled like a traditional bait box and contains a mechanical snap trap that breaks the rodent’s neck. Its “appealing message” works so efficiently on rats that consumers don’t need to reset the trap multiple times, Gries said.
“By speaking their language, we can manipulate them or guide them to locations where we can kill the responding rat,” he said.