Got rats? These cities trap 'em and zap 'em

GettyImages/ Pierre Aden / EyeEm

One northeast city’s success killing 1,000 rodents in less than a year with traps that rely on electric current is leading its neighbors to test the same technology.

Portland, Maine’s success greatly reducing its rat population has led other cities in New England to pursue the same rodent-control technology. 

Smart Boxes are industrial-grade above-ground traps that do not use toxic bait. The manufacturer says that when a rodent enters the trap, sensors detect movement and body heat and activate a “catch” function, instantly killing the rodent with an electrical current. Afterward, the rodent is put into a container and the trap resets.

In Portland, an increase in infrastructure sewer projects caused the city to see an uptick in rodent problems. To combat this problem in a "safe'' and "nontoxic" way, the city partnered with Modern Pest Services, a pest control firm, said Jessica Grondin, Portland's director of communications and digital services. Portland is the first municipality in the country to pilot the Smart Box technology and has had close to 1,000 captures since the 40 rat-trapping devices were installed on April 1, 2021 around the city.

"The program has been pretty successful so far and allows us to track movement and deploy things as necessary based on the numbers we are seeing," Grondin told Route Fifty. 

Another city launches the same program

As part of Katjana Ballantyne’s 100-day agenda, the new mayor of Somerville, Massachusetts launched a five-month pilot program in January to bring the latest rodent-control technology to the city. Inspired by Portland's program, Somerville also partnered with Modern Pest Services and deployed 50 Smart Boxes. 

"We essentially saw a lot of similarities just in terms of population density and infrastructure density, the number of rodents that were inside and reported, Colin Zeigler, environmental health coordinator for Somerville, told Route Fifty. "And as we continued to research and developed a plan it just seemed like a no-brainer for us."

Portland has an estimated population of 68,000 and Somerville has about 81,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The city also hopes to work closely with the community since they are “the eyes and ears of the ground” to efficiently reduce the rodent problem, Zeigler said. 

Since the Somerville program launched Feb. 28, 39 rats have been captured, which Zeigler said is "really great results" and that it "provided us with some good information about specific box locations and how they're placed." As the weather gets warmer, the city expects those numbers to increase.

More cities to follow

After seeing the success, Cambridge, Massachusetts is considering implementing the rodent-control technology too. In fact, Zeigler said Somerville staff will be speaking with Cambridge officials next week about the boxes.

Cambridge issued a policy order March 7 that said the city manager must consult with the Department of Public Works to introduce the Smart Box rodent control system. The city manager is required to report their findings at the March 21 city council meeting.

Like many places large and small nationwide, Cambridge’s rodent problem has plagued the city for many years, according to the local news source Cambridge Day

Sixteen years ago, rats were “dripping out of the heaters” and 12 years ago, a council member’s backyard party was interrupted by about a half-dozen pests, leading him to declare “the rats have taken over.” Construction also had “unleashed the fury” of rats.

“We know that we have been doing all that we can to mitigate the rat problem here. But we are needing to use all the tools that are available in our toolbox, and [Smart Boxes are] just one more tool that we can consider,” Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon recently told Cambridge Day.

Over the years, cities have tried a variety of techniques to combat rats. For example, Chicago in 2016 took to suffocating the rodents by placing dry ice in their burrows.

Andre Claudio is an assistant editor at Route Fifty. 

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