Ricefield rats have destroyed almost 29 hectares of paddy crops belonging to 50 farmers in Kepala Batas, Penang, The Star Online reported today.
The infestation by the rats began with the massive floods in northern Peninsula Malaysia last November, in which Penang was heavily hit.
The Penang director of the Integrated Agriculture Development Area (IADA), Mohd Nazri Abu Seman, told the daily that the rats, known scientifically as Rattus argentiventer, escaped to the fields from the rivers.
“They followed the floodwaters and ended up in the paddy fields via irrigation canals,” he was quoted as saying.
Mohd Nazri predicted that the problem would persist, with the rats eating both the white pith inside young paddy stalks - thereby preventing grain-production - and also any grain the small mammals can find.
He further analysed that the 50 farmers in question were the first to be hit by the rodent infestation as they had began planting in April this year, the first group to do so.
“Padi farmers don’t start planting all at once. They go by turns based on areas,” Mohd Nazri was quoted as saying.
These rats are known to reproduce at a high rate - five to 10 offspring per month - with the babies becoming sexually mature three months after they are born, according to the report.
According to Penang Agriculture, Agro-based Industry and Rural Development Committee chairperson Dr Afif Bahardin, steps are being taken to curb the infestation.
The state Agriculture Department is working with IADA to apply poisoned rice grains, lay traps and engage common barn owls to hunt the rats by building nests for them.
“The nests for barn owls are designed to attract the birds to live in the padi fields, or at least perch there at night in search of rats,” Afif told the daily.