In March of 2021, Australian news services released reports of a “monumental” plague of mice ravaging the eastern states of the country. Residents were complaining about catching around a hundred mice each day. Every time someone opens a drawer, there’s always a chance of a mouse inside.
Experts estimated that there could be as many as 20 million mice in the region. The mice were eating the cotton crops, along with grain stored in silos. Several people have actually been bitten, and there was a report of a rare mouse-related illness lymphocytic choriomeningitis.
While the news reports were rather disturbing, this isn’t the first time that mice and rats have ravaged through human areas and have caused great damage. Historically, there have been worse cases.
The Black Death of the 1300s
Many consider the Black Death as perhaps the most terrible catastrophe ever. Conservative estimates put the death toll at 25 million in Europe alone, and that was 40% of the total European population. But other experts set the European death toll at 60%.
That number doesn’t count the deaths in Asia, along with Northern Africa. All told, the total death toll estimates ranged from 75 million up to 200 million.
Historians say that half the population of England died, and it took more than a hundred years (more like 150 years) for the population to return to the pre-Black Death population numbers in Europe. About 50,000 Parisians died, out of a total of 100,000 people in Paris. In Florence, the population of 120,000 went down to just 50,000 people.
According to experts, rodents were a primary cause of the plague. The mice and rats carried the fleas that carried the plague bacteria. The rodents that were resistant to the plague lived, and spread the fleas all over the continent.
The rodents that died due to the fleas also contributed to the problem. The fleas moved on to other hosts, including humans, and that spread the disease among the population.
The Rodent Invasion of the New World
European explorers discovered the Americas, and that led to the era of maritime trade between the Americas and Europe. Of course, the rodents came along with the ships, as these vessels had various cargo boxes and other cramped spaces that were ideal nesting sites for mice and rats.
Once the European ships docked and unloaded in the colonies, the rodents had a vast new continent to spread out into. These mice and rats spread all over both North and South America. Nobody really knows how many mice and rats there are in the US, but the most conservative estimates place the number at the hundreds of millions. There’s just no way of reducing these numbers significantly, even if you use the best mouse traps and the best food bait for mice.
The Pandemic of 1894
This is often regarded as the “Third Great Pandemic”, with the Justinian plague of the mid-500s as the first and the Black Death as the second. This emergence of the bubonic plague first started in 1855 in a remote province in China. By 1866, the plague reached the provincial capital, via the tin and opium routes. By 1894, it had spread to Canton and Hong Kong, and it eventually reached even India and Australia.
This pandemic waxed and waned for the next 50 years, and it did not end until 1959. By that point, it had already killed more than 15 million people.
The Hanoi Rat Disaster of the Early 1900s
Back in the late 1800s and the early 1900s, the French colonists in Hanoi introduced the town to the concept of toilets. But for that to work, it meant building a sewer system so that the waste could be carried away. And so, the colonists proceeded to build that sewer system.
Unfortunately, the rodents from the wild found the sewers as the ideal home. The colonists built more than 9 miles of sewage pipe under the town. These places were dark and nicely cool, and they also provided shelter from predators. They could then breed without any issue, as they were safe.
It became a nightmare, as these rodents then started to come out of the drains into the homes of people when they got hungry. It didn’t take long for matters to become desperate, as the mice and rats just got too many.
The French colonists tried to solve the problem by hiring local rat hunters. The plan was that the Vietnamese hunters would descend into the sewers and kill the rodents. The hunters were quite good at it, with about 8,000 rodents killed in the first week. They got better, and soon the numbers increased to 4,000 a day. It even reached 20,000 rats and mice killed per day.
The problem was that the hunters only needed to submit the tail as proof of the dead rodent. And it turned out that the local hunters were just cutting the tails off the rodents, to make sure that they wouldn’t run out of rodents. In fact, some of them were even breeding them!
These are the kinds of stories that can make anyone shudder. If you have a mouse infestation, at least you don’t have the kind of problem that these people have. However bad it gets in your home, just think that it can get a lot worse!