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Scientists discover new tactic that could transform pest control: '[Fear] ... makes producing effective traps so difficult'

In a recent study, researchers made a surprising new discovery.

Pheromones, New methods for humane pest control

Photo Credit: iStock

Fascinating research into the psychology of rodents may pave the way for new, more humane pest control methods. 

In a recent study published in iScience, researchers identified a pheromone that can affect the emotional state of nearby rats, potentially making rat populations easier to catch and move.

Pheromones are biological compounds produced by an animal that can affect the physiology or behavior of other animals in the same species. The powerful signals have been studied for decades, providing a glimpse into the social lives of animals such as rats, moths, and even humans. 

This wouldn't be the first time pheromones were harnessed for pest control. Scientists have previously harnessed the power of pheromones to deter moths from laying eggs in fabrics and destroying clothes.

Humans and rats have long endured a strained relationship. Rodents are known to carry numerous diseases that can spread to humans through contamination or bites in addition to causing damage to homes and property. However, getting rid of a rodent infestation can also be hazardous to human health.

The use of lethal traps, pesticides, and rodenticides can harm children, pets, and wildlife. When these toxins are ingested by wild animals such as rodents or birds, they build up in the food chain, according to Audubon Magazine. That can cause problems for generations of animals, especially when used or distributed beyond federal regulations. 

Wildlife poisonings have been recorded in dozens of species, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, while the effects of poison in the food chain are evident in owls, hawks, and other birds of prey.

New research from scientists at the University of Tokyo explored how pheromones from calm rats can reduce fear in nearby rats. Regarding this research, Associate Professor of Veterinary Ethology Yasushi Kiyokawa told Phys.org, "This is important because it's [fear] in urban rats that makes producing effective traps so difficult."

After isolating the calming pheromone, known as 2-methylbutyric acid, researchers were able to attract the rats in the lab and in urban environments using a synthetic version of the pheromone. In addition to prevention techniques such as trash management and habitat modification, these findings could offer a humane solution to rat infestations. 

Based on the results of the research, the synthetic pheromone could lead rats into nonlethal traps and keep them calm while they are transported away from homes and cities.

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