Are we losing the rat race? How rodents took over our offices

Rats are clever, resilient, horrifying and yet somehow admirable. And, while we’ve been away, they’ve been colonising our office spaces

An empty office building is a good place to shelter if you’re a rat in a crisis. It will be warm and dry and, if you’re lucky, one of the humans who hastily vacated before the last coronavirus lockdown will have left a half-eaten Pret flapjack in a drawer for you. Not that you’re fussy. The loss of your usual diet of commuter leftovers is a blow, but it’s not insurmountable. “Rats will always find something to eat,” says Richard Ashley, emeritus professor of urban water at the University of Sheffield. “Human waste is ideal, but any natural organic material will do. Houseplants are fine. Leather will do at a push.”

You can usually find a way in via the toilets. As a rat, you’re neophobic, which means you don’t like going places where you don’t feel safe. This makes you both hard to trap and unlikely to pop up while a human is actually sitting on the loo, much to the human’s relief. However, if an office is left empty with the central heating on, the water in a U-bend can evaporate and it might be worth risking the vertical migration from cold sewer to warm corporate setting.

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