A Las Vegas Valley resident since 1960, Sharon Coomes first noticed what turned out to be rat droppings in her garage a couple of years ago.
Before that, Coomes had never noticed a rat issue in her Whitney Ranch neighborhood in Henderson, the place she’s lived for nearly three decades.
“A couple weeks after that, I opened my dishwasher and the insulation was kind of coming out of the machine,” Coomes said. “It turned out it was rats. Since then, I’ve become the rat queen when it comes to killing rats. Last summer, I killed 10 rats in seven days.”
Coomes also uses a pest control company.
Depending on where a person lives in the valley, rats could be a problem this year, along with other desert-dwelling pests like scorpions, spiders, roaches, crickets, pigeons, bees and ants.
Pest populations can change based on the season, along with a multitude of other factors, including weather patterns, construction in an area and residents’ behaviors.
After a mild Southern Nevada winter, some pest populations this year were able to avoid the freezing temperatures that normally would spell certain death.
Farrah Habibian, owner of Progressive Pest Control in Las Vegas, said 2020 has been a particularly bad year for rodents and scorpions.
“Those are the two major issues this summer, and that’s probably going to continue into the fall,” Habibian said. “For rodents, it’s been a middle-of-the-road year, but their activities tend to pick up as the weather gets cooler, too. Attics in homes are too hot for them during the summer, but they’ll start to go into attics around this time of year.”
In Las Vegas, there are two main types of rats — the roof rat and the Norway rat, though the roof rat is more common, according to the Southern Nevada Health District.
Norway rats are typically larger than roof rats — they can grow to be up to 18 inches long — while the roof rat typically has bigger ears and longer tails than its cousin.
Roof rats can climb walls, trees and other vertical surfaces. They have been documented in the valley since 1990, according to the Health District.
It’s difficult to know whether the area’s rat population is actually increasing, and, if so, by how much, pest control experts said.
With people spending more time at home during the pandemic, it could be they are simply more likely to notice pests.
“I think that’s part of it,” Habibian said. “People have been calling a lot more about rodents and scorpions. The scorpions are all over the valley now. Out of every 10 calls I get now, I bet six are about scorpions.”
Trevor Lavancher, owner of Henderson-based Dr. Death Pest Control, said more than 80% of the calls over the summer were for scorpions.
“Scorpions this year have been really active,” he said.
The most common scorpion people encounter is the Arizona bark scorpion, one of the most venomous scorpions found in North America, Lavancher said. Their sting, while not necessarily deadly to humans, can make people sick, he said.
At the Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican, Siena Campus, there are normally a handful of emergency room visits each month for scorpion stings, a hospital spokesman said.
Most of the other two dozen scorpion species found in Southern Nevada are basically harmless, experts say.
One of the best ways to keep scorpions out of the house is to make sure there are no gaps at the bottom of exterior doors, Lavancher said.
“A scorpion can compress its body through a gap the width of a credit card,” Lavancher said.
With regard to roof rats, Vivek Raman, an environment health supervisor for the Health District, said the valley’s population is active, though he noted that the district stopped keeping tabs on rodents in Southern Nevada nearly a decade ago because of a lack of funding.
Without natural predators in urban areas, roof rats are free to roam the valley in search of shelter and food sources such as garbage and pet food, Raman said.
A good place to find a roof rat nest is at the top of palm trees with old, dead growth, which offers a secure place for the rats to bed down, Raman said.
During a recent morning in Henderson, Ross Hunsaker, service manager for Progressive Pest Control, made a routine visit to a body shop to check the rat bait stations he had placed.
He unlocked each station — a black box with bait inside — with a key before checking its contents.
The hope is that the rat would have ingested the poison bait, which would eventually lead to the rodent’s death after two or three days.
Hunsaker uses mainly bait stations, though snap traps, set up to kill rats instantly, are used around food service areas at certain businesses.
The ideal bait for a snap trap is peanut butter with a dash of olive oil, Hunsaker said,
Back in the Whitney Ranch area of Henderson, rats and scorpions have been hot topics of discussion this summer on the popular neighborhood smartphone application Nextdoor.
Several area residents in August and September posted about having encountered the pests. One person even suggested a neighborhood scorpion hunt.
Another Whitney Ranch resident posted on the Nextdoor social networking forum in late August that he had seen rats around his home “the size of a cat.”
“I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 29 years. Until the past two years, I have never any rats,” Coomes said. “Now, I’m noticing other people complaining about them, too. People are talking about it.”