‘Stranger Things’ 3: Release date, cast, fan theories & trailers

Sharethrough (Mobile) The ‘Stranger Things’ action figures feature the whole gang
In December 2017, star David Harbour said fans “probably won’t get [Season 3] until sometime in 2019” because the Duffer brothers “need time” to write it.
“Those guys work so hard,” he said. “I mean, they just sit in their apartment and write for 12, 14 hours a day.” How many episodes will there be in Stranger Things Season 3?
Executive Producer Shawn Levy has revealed the episode count of the new series to Glamour . “We’re there. It’ll be an eight or nine-episode season. The number of episodes will be dictated by the amount of story that excites us. We now know what is going to happen in season three to every character.” TV Line later confirmed that it will be eight episodes. What’s going to happen in Stranger Things Season 3?
We have a lot of questions about Stranger Things 2 after that finale. But it seems pretty clear the show will extend past Hawkins. “They’re going to have to get the fuck out of this town” Ross told Vulture in an extensive interview. And we’ve already seen that happen. Divisive episode ‘The Lost Sister’ from Season 2, saw Eleven branch out and hang out with fellow telekinetic wonder Kali – aka Eight. Chances are this was an important step to establishing storylines outside of Hawkins.
But as the ominous final scene suggested, the Mind Flayer could still cause them hassle, according to The Duffer Brothers .”They’ve shut the door on the Mind Flayer, but not only is it still there in the Upside Down, it’s very much aware of the kids, and particularly Eleven. It had not encountered her and her powers until that final episode. Now, it knows that she’s out there. We wanted to end on a little bit of an ominous note.” Job done, then.
Speaking to Variety, Millie Bobbie Brown gave us some insight into what will happen to Eleven. “It’s really a coming of age for her and understanding what being a normal teenage girl is, she said. “It’s a beautiful storyline for Eleven this season.” N’aww.
David Harbour, who played Jim Hopper, has suggested to Insider that a long-held theory that his daughter Sara died in Hawkins Lab could be true. When pointed the similarity between where Hopper was seen slumped in a stairwell in Season 1, and where Dr. Owens was found hiding in Season 2, Harbour responded, “it is the same location. So that’s interesting. Or it’s a similar location.”
Eleven’s controlling father Papa reared his head briefly, hinting that he could return as the show’s big baddie. Eight, meanwhile, also looks like she’s set herself up as the baddie – as she uses her power for not-so-wholesome endeavours.
After hyping up Stranger Things 2 as “bigger and darker”, The Duffer Brothers have promised no such extension.“It’s not necessarily going to be bigger in scale,” Matt Duffer told Indiewire . “What I am really excited about is giving these characters an interesting journey to go on.”
Joe Keery, who plays Steve, is already thinking what his character’s role in the new episodes could comprise of. Speaking to Mashable , he said “he’s [Steve] definitely not the fastest guy. In a pinch, he can work himself out of some situations. With Hopper, they could lend to each other in that way. It could be like a buddy-cop movie or something.”
Shawn Levy said that we’ll see more of Steve and Dustin in the new series, for sure In season two, it was all very cute and there was a funny factor to it because it was unexpected, but now that it is expected, I want to see them connect more and be more familiar with each other,” Levy told Glamour . “I want them to have a connection like they’ve really had a connection for a year—like they’re brothers.”
Will, who was the focal point of Season 2, is unlikely to have such a pivotal role, according to Levy. “We’re going to give Will a break,” he told Glamour . “We’re not going to put Will through hell for a third season in a row. He’ll be dealing with stuff, but he won’t be at rock bottom the way we forced the amazing Noah Schnapp to play.”
Speaking at a special screening of Stranger Things (August 18), David Harbour revealed an unlikely source said to have inspired Season 3 of the series. Speaking at the event, Harbour said 1985 comedy Fletch – starring Chevy Chase – has provided the Duffers with some ideas for the new season.
Harbour told Variety : “The Duffers are so specific each year with the movies…and Fletch is one movie we get to play around and have some fun with this season, which you wouldn’t expect from Stranger Things and you wouldn’t expect from the Spielberg universe and you certainly wouldn’t expect from a darker season.”
Harbour also said that his relationship with Eleven will become more complicated as the season unfolds. He said: “Their relationship is going to get far more complex, because, you know, things happen to girls and boys when they’re 13 and 14…a lot of changes go on in the body and in your social life, and I don’t think he’s going to handle watching her become a woman in front of his eyes very well.”
He added: “That’s horrifying for him – maybe even more so than fighting inter-dimensional monsters.”
Harbour also revealed that he wants to see his character’s relationship with Joanne Byers develop more. “There may be other people in the mix in this situation, but I think they’re built for each other and I would love to see them get together.”
“From the very beginning, I thought that these two are tortured, messed up, beautiful people who are like puzzle pieces that can’t stand each other but actually need each other.” When will Stranger Things 3 be set?
Speaking to Collider , producer Shawn Levy said that the show is likely to be set a year after Season 2’s conclusion, so during the summer of 1985.
The Duffer Brothers also suggested that the new episodes will have to deal with the kids’ growing up and puberty.
“Even if we didn’t want to deal with [puberty], we have to deal with it because our real-life actors are going through it. I think that’s exciting because it forces the show to evolve and become something different every year,” they told Entertainment Weekly .
“It’s going to test their friendships. Obviously, like Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink) are together, but really, when you’re that age, how long do relationships last? They usually last about two weeks if you’re lucky. I think that’s going to be fun to explore.”
Levy has also told The Hollywood Reporter that Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) will still be together too. Will Stranger Things Season 3 be the final episodes?
Judging by the comments by The Duffer Brothers to Vulture , they’re “thinking it will be a four-season thing and then out”. So as Season 3 progresses, we’re likely to see some kind of end-game for the show starting to rear its head.
Speaking to NME , Linnea Berthelsen – who plays Kali aka Eight – doesn’t think that Season 2 episode, ‘The Lost Sister’, is a set-up for a spin-off show. “I don’t think so. I love the rest of the gang, I think it would be so much fun to see more of them, but I honestly don’t think so.” Will the whole cast be back for Stranger Things Season 3?
See here’s where it gets tricky. If you hadn’t noticed, the kids are pretty much everywhere right now – from talk shows, to playing guitar with Mac DeMarco . So as the kids turn into teens, there’s likely to be some kind of ambition beyond the Stranger Things comfort blanket.
Millie Bobby Brown, who plays Eleven, is already eyeing up some roles in Hollywood blockbusters . She’s confirmed to star in Godzilla: King of Monsters , which is already in its post-production stages. Charlie Heaton (Jonathan) is starring alongside Game of Thrones ‘ Maisie Williams in 2018 film The New Mutants .
With those kind of scheduling conflicts likely to throw a spanner in the works, who knows which actors might end up ditching Hawkins to fry some bigger fish? Demand is going to be high for these stars, especially after Season 2.
Linnea Berthelsen, who plays Kali, revealed to NME that she “doesn’t know yet” if she will return for Season 3, but would “love to,” if asked.
“I have no idea, I’m really a big fan of Matt and Ross who create the show and I just really want to see what they do with this storyline,” she told NME. “If they’re gonna bring Kali back, I have no idea. I think we should just be excited for the show, for season 3, and see what they’re gonna bring.”
The Duffer Brothers seem keen for her to return. “I would say chances are very high she comes back” Matt told an audience at Vulture Festival LA.
One person we know we will be seeing more of his Lucas’ younger sister, Erica, who stole the show in Season 2. “I love Erica,” Matt Duffer told Yahoo . “Erica wasn’t even supposed to be in [Season 2] as much as she was. We fell in love with this girl.”
“There will definitely be more Erica in Season 3,” Ross Duffer said to Yahoo . “That is the fun thing about the show — you discover stuff as you’re filming. We were able to integrate more of her in, but not as much you want because the story [was] already going. ‘We got to use more Erica’ — that was one of the first things we said in the writers’ room.” erica sinclair is a savage #StrangerThings pic.twitter.com/0R2TOlS1Cu
— gaby ︽✵︽ (@camillepreakrs) October 27, 2017
Priah Ferguson, who plays the character, seems well up for it, too. “I hope Erica could partner with Lucas and fight off the Demogorgan with Eleven, Mad Max, and the whole cast,” she told Teen Vogue . I feel like her just snooping around in Lucas’s room – I feel like that’s a little bit of a clue. But maybe not.
Levy has said that they’re not sure if Dr. Owens, played by Paul Reiser will be back just yet. “I don’t have a clear-cut answer for you yet” Levy said to Glamour in January 2018. And the cast will get a pay rise?
According to reports , the stars will get paid a whole lot more for season 3. Winona Ryder and David Harbour will be paid $350,000 an episode and Millie Bobby Brown $300,000.
The child stars Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin and Noah Schnapp will all get $250,000 per episode, while Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton and Joe Keery will pocket roughly $150,000 each. Will there be new characters in Stranger Things Season 3 ?
Yes! That Hashtag Show recently announced that there will be at least 3 new characters in the show and gave a bit on info on them:
Mayor Larry Kline: Described as a classic, 80’s style slick politician, Kline is described as pathetic and driven only by his own interests. The studio is looking for a male, 40s-60s, to fill the role.
Bruce: A morally compromised news reporter in his 50s, Bruce was described as outwardly sexist, overweight and bedraggled.
Patricia Brown: Patricia seems to be filing the role of the sweet, neighborhood elder. The studio is looking for a woman in her 70s for the role which will see her spending a lot of time tending to her garden and offering her advice to the neighborhood kids.
An additional new character by the name of Robin, who Netflix described as “an “alternative girl”. That is her literal character description so get ready for some angst.”, will be played by Maya Thurman-Hawke. Has there been confirmed new cast additions?
Yes, it’s been confirmed that Cary Elwes and Jake Busey will join for season 3. Princess Bride star Elwes will play Mayor Kline, while Starship Troopers ‘ Busey will portray Bruce. Cary Elwes and Jake Busey
Busey elaborated on what his character consists of. “I play one of these filthy, rotten journalist-types!” he told Syfy . “Nah, I’m a local journalist with a sick sense of humor. They had to add an element to the show, so it’s a new angle.”
As mentioned above, Maya Thurman-Hawke, who in 2017 starred in the BBC’s Little Women , will also appear in the new series. Has Stranger Things Season 3 started filming?
Yes, filming for Stranger Things Season 3 began on April 23.

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The Science Is Clear: Dirty Farm Water Is Making Us Sick

The Science Is Clear: Dirty Farm Water Is Making Us Sick Getty Images
This story originally appeared on Reveal and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
William Whitt suffered violent diarrhea for days. But once he began vomiting blood, he knew it was time to rush to the hospital. His body swelled up so much that his wife thought he looked like the Michelin Man, and on the inside, his intestines were inflamed and bleeding.
For four days last spring, doctors struggled to control the infection that was ravaging Whitt, a father of three in western Idaho. The pain was excruciating , even though he was given opioid painkillers intravenously every 10 minutes for days.
His family feared they would lose him.
“I was terrified. I wouldn’t leave the hospital because I wasn’t sure he was still going to be there when I got back,” said Whitt’s wife, Melinda.
Whitt and his family were baffled: How could a healthy 37-year-old suddenly get so sick? While he was fighting for his life, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quizzed Whitt, seeking information about what had sickened him.
Finally, the agency’s second call offered a clue: “They kept drilling me about salad ,” Whitt recalled. Before he fell ill, he had eaten two salads from a pizza shop. William Whitt and wife Melinda say it is irresponsible for the Food and Drug Administration to postpone water-testing requirements for produce growers. “People should be able to know that the food they’re buying is not going to harm them and their loved ones,” Melinda Whitt said. Joe Jaszewski/Reveal
The culprit turned out to be E. coli, a powerful pathogen that had contaminated romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, and distributed nationwide. At least 210 people in 36 states were sickened. Five died and 27 suffered kidney failure. The same strain of E. coli that sickened them was detected in a Yuma canal used to irrigate some crops.
For more than a decade, it’s been clear that there’s a gaping hole in American food safety: Growers aren’t required to test their irrigation water for pathogens such as E. coli. As a result, contaminated water can end up on fruits and vegetables.
After several high-profile disease outbreaks linked to food, Congress in 2011 ordered a fix, and produce growers this year would have begun testing their water under rules crafted by the Obama administration’s Food and Drug Administration.
But six months before people were sickened by the contaminated romaine, President Donald Trump’s FDA – responding to pressure from the farm industry and Trump’s order to eliminate regulations – shelved the water-testing rules for at least four years.
Despite this deadly outbreak, the FDA has shown no sign of reconsidering its plan to postpone the rules. The agency also is considering major changes, such as allowing some produce growers to test less frequently or find alternatives to water testing to ensure the safety of their crops.
The FDA’s lack of urgency dumbfounds food safety scientists.
“Mystifying, isn’t it?” said Trevor Suslow, a food safety expert at the University of California, Davis. “If the risk factor associated with agricultural water use is that closely tied to contamination and outbreaks, there needs to be something now. … I can’t think of a reason to justify waiting four to six to eight years to get started.”
The deadly Yuma outbreak underscores that irrigation water is a prime source of foodborne illnesses. In some cases, the feces of livestock or wild animals flow into a creek. Then the tainted water seeps into wells or is sprayed onto produce, which is then harvested, processed and sold at stores and restaurants. Salad greens are particularly vulnerable because they often are eaten raw and can harbor bacteria when torn.
After an E. coli outbreak killed three people who ate spinach grown in California’s Salinas Valley in 2006, most California and Arizona growers of leafy greens signed agreements to voluntarily test their irrigation water.
Whitt’s lettuce would have been covered by those agreements. But his story illustrates the limits of a voluntary safety program and how lethal E. coli can be even when precautions are taken by farms and processors.
Farm groups contend that water testing is too expensive and should not apply to produce such as apples or onions, which are less likely to carry pathogens.
“I think the whole thing is an overblown attempt to exert government power over us,” said Bob Allen, a Washington state apple farmer.
While postponing the water-testing rules would save growers $12 million per year, it also would cost consumers $108 million per year in medical expenses, according to an FDA analysis.
For Whitt and his family, his illness has been traumatic as well as costly. After returning home from his nine-day hospital stay, he relied on narcotic painkillers for about six weeks. The infection caused a hernia and tore holes in the lining of his stomach that surgeons had to patch with mesh. Five months later, he still has numbness from the surgery and diarrhea every week.
Whitt and his wife said it is irresponsible for the FDA to postpone the water-testing requirements when officials knew that people like Whitt could pay a hefty price.
“People should be able to know that the food they’re buying is not going to harm them and their loved ones,” Melinda Whitt said. “At this point, we question everything that goes into our mouths.” FDA shows no urgency
The federal government often requires water testing to protect the public: Tap water is tested to make sure it meets health standards, and so are beaches, lakes and swimming pools.
But under the Trump administration plan, large growers wouldn’t have to start inspecting their water systems and annually test surface waters for pathogens until 2022.
Then they will have an additional two years to ensure irrigation water that comes in contact with vegetables and fruit does not contain E. coli above a certain concentration.
For the smallest farms, inspections and annual testing will begin in 2024, and they will have until 2026 to meet E. coli standards.
That means full compliance with the safeguards wouldn’t come until 20 years after three people died from eating California spinach, 15 years after Congress signed the Food Safety Modernization Act and eight years after Whitt and more than 200 others were sickened by romaine lettuce.
While the delay is just a proposal for now, the FDA has assured growers that it will not enforce the requirements in the meantime.
FDA officials declined interview requests. But a spokeswoman said the agency proposed the delay to ensure the testing requirements are effective.
“The Yuma outbreak does indeed emphasize the urgency of putting agricultural water standards in place, but it is important that they be the right standards, ones that both meet our public health mission and are feasible for growers to meet,” FDA spokeswoman Juli Putnam said in response to written questions.
In addition, the FDA did not sample water in a Yuma irrigation canal until seven weeks after the area’s lettuce was identified as the cause of last spring’s outbreak. And university scientists trying to learn from the outbreak say farmers have not shared water data with them as they try to figure out how it occurred and avoid future ones. Why farmers should test water
The FDA has yet to unravel the mystery of how the Yuma romaine sickened so many people. But irrigation water is a “viable explanation,” the FDA said in an August update. Analysis of water samples from canals detected E. coli with the same genetic fingerprint as the bacteria that sickened Whitt and others. A large cattle feedlot is under investigation as a possible source.
The romaine outbreak is reminiscent of the 2006 spinach outbreak, which sickened at least 200 people in 26 states, killing a 2-year-old boy and two elderly women. Inspectors traced the E. coli strain to a stream contaminated with feces from cattle and wild pigs that then seeped into well water.
Many growers irrigate with water straight from streams or wells without testing it for pathogens. Pathogens from water can be absorbed by a plant’s roots. A CDC review reported that almost half of all foodborne illnesses from 1998 to 2008 were caused by produce.
Scientists from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, found in 2014 that investigations of tainted produce “often implicate agricultural water as a source of contamination.” Another study by FDA researchers in May noted that salmonella in irrigation water “has been regarded as one of the major sources for fresh produce contamination, and this has become a public health concern.”
In the wake of the public outcry over the spinach outbreak, California and Arizona suppliers of salad greens created their own voluntary safety program in 2007. Since then, water testing has become commonplace in the Salinas Valley, known as the nation’s “salad bowl” because about 60 percent of all leafy greens are grown there.
On one recent foggy summer morning, Gary and Kara Waugaman stood in the fields of a ranch near the Salinas Valley town of Watsonville. The Waugamans are food safety coordinators for Lakeside Organic Gardens, a vegetable grower and shipper. Clad in neon vests and jeans, they drove from field to field, examining soil, surveying plants and testing water.
“We got red chard, green chard, rainbow chard, green kale, red kale, lacinato and then collards,” Gary Waugaman said, pointing at row after row of colorful leafy plants. Gary (left) and Kara Waugaman, food safety coordinators for Lakeside Organic Gardens, inspect rows of lettuce, kale and rainbow chard at Seascape Ranch near Watsonville, Calif. Salad greens are particularly vulnerable to pathogens because they often are eaten raw and can harbor bacteria when torn. Susie Neilson/Reveal
Kara Waugaman stepped onto an open, concrete-lined reservoir. A single duck floated on the surface. It appeared clean, “but you can’t tell anything by looking,” she warned.
In her years of testing water from this underground well, she never has found a sample with fecal contamination high enough to violate industry standards. Using a special stick, she dipped a small glass bottle into the reservoir; it disappeared with a tiny glug, then emerged full of clear water.
Next, the Waugamans drove to another farm. Baby Brussels sprouts poked out of leafy plants. A powerful rotating sprinkler showered Kara Waugaman as she ran toward it and quickly filled a small bottle. Kara Waugaman collects a water sample from a concrete-lined reservoir at Seascape Ranch near Watsonville, Calif. Over years of testing, no sample from this reservoir has exceeded the safety standard for E. coli. Susie Neilson/Reveal
For about 10 years, the Waugamans have sent samples to a laboratory that tests for generic E. coli. If a certain concentration of what is known as “indicator” bacteria is detected, it could be a sign of more dangerous pathogens like the one that sickened Whitt.
The two farms the Waugamans visited that day participate in the voluntary California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. Members test agricultural water once a month and submit to audits by state inspectors.
Mike Villaneva, the agreement’s technical director, said he hopes growers elsewhere soon will get on board with water testing.
“Our feeling is that everyone ought to know their water quality, and the only way you know that is by testing,” he said.
But if the Yuma farms were voluntarily testing their water for pathogens, how did E. coli contaminate the lettuce? There may never be an answer.
“Everyone is in shock because the (growers) really felt their (voluntary) program would prevent not every and all sporadic illnesses, but a large outbreak like this,” Suslow said. “They’re reeling with that failure and working to figure out what to do to prevent it from taking place again.”
He hopes this failure will persuade them to give researchers access to water data collected before the romaine outbreak and in the future.
Villaneva and Gary Waugaman said the monthly testing is not foolproof; it minimizes, but doesn’t eliminate, the risks. Also, pathogens from livestock and other animals can get into crops from wind, dust and other means.
The contaminated lettuce likely came from multiple farms. But the only grower named so far, Harrison Farms, is a member of the Arizona alliance that agreed to follow the voluntary safety measures, including water testing.
Harrison Farms said in a statement that it has tested its irrigation water on a monthly basis for the past 10 years and that it met federal standards for E. coli during the last growing season. The farm said its fields and water supply “underwent a thorough investigation” by the FDA in May that “did not yield any significant findings.”
Although the federal rules may not have prevented the Yuma outbreak, experts say they could help prevent the next one. The requirements would have been mandatory nationwide and applied to all produce.
But Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for safe food and water, called the Obama-era rules “unmanageable.” She said produce contaminated by tainted water is unacceptable, but so is shutting down small farms that can’t afford the testing.
“It’s a terrible situation,” she said. “The (federal rule) solution could have a lot of casualties. That’s not acceptable either.”
Stuart Reitz thinks onion growers shouldn’t have to test water at all.
“We haven’t seen any evidence that there’s contamination of onions from any pathogenic bacteria in irrigation water,” said Reitz, a scientific adviser to the Malheur County Onion Growers Association in Oregon.
Allen, the Washington apple farmer, estimates that it would cost him about $5,000 for the first two years of testing his irrigation water. He thinks it’s a waste of time and money because no outbreaks have been tied to the state’s apples.
“I’m not gonna test,” he said. “If they want to throw me in jail, well then, OK, guess I have to go to jail.” FDA to growers: ‘Keep doing what you’re doing’
The FDA’s deference to growers was on full display at a February meeting, two months before the romaine outbreak made national headlines.
During a two-day recorded workshop with growers and other industry officials, Stephen Ostroff, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, told growers that federal scientists had investigated “far too many produce-related outbreaks over the years where water turned out to be the culprit. There is no question that to reduce the risk of contamination of produce by the water that’s used on the crops, we need water standards.”
But Ostroff reassured the audience members that the FDA wants their feedback to develop new “requirements that are less burdensome while protecting public health.”
“We see revisiting the water standards as a collaboration with stakeholders, including all of the stakeholders in this room,” he said.
“All options are on the table, including reopening the rule,” he told them.
The safety requirements would not be implemented anytime soon, FDA officials told the group.
“Rather than kind of rushing to make a set decision, (we’re) just focusing on, you know, working with you guys for now,” said FDA staff fellow Chelsea Davidson. Gary Waugaman shows baby Brussels sprouts on a farm near Watsonville, Calif. The farm participates in the voluntary California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. Members test agricultural water once a month and submit to audits by state inspectors. Susie Neilson/Reveal
James Gorny, a former industry lobbyist whom the FDA hired in February to implement produce safety rules, told the group that the agency would not ask anything of growers in the interim.
“The FDA has clearly stated, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’ We’re not asking you to do any more at this point in time,” he said.
Gorny’s career is a classic example of the revolving door between federal agencies and the industries they regulate.
In 2006 and 2007, Gorny was a registered lobbyist for the United Fresh Produce Association. Then he worked for the FDA as a food safety scientist for several years. In 2013, he became a vice president of another growers group, the Produce Marketing Association, which has spent $120,000 on lobbying so far this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group.
Gorny’s hiring by the FDA mirrors a pattern across public health and environmental agencies. The Trump administration has appointed dozens of former industry officials and lobbyists to relax regulations designed to protect public health. William Whitt of Idaho was hospitalized for nine days last spring after eating salads contaminated with E. coli. The outbreak, traced to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Ariz., sickened at least 210 people nationwide and killed five. Joe Jaszewski/Reveal
Whitt is suing the restaurant in Nampa, Idaho, that sold him the contaminated salads, and his anger flares when he talks about the FDA delay, as well as all the growers, shippers and processors that played a role in the outbreak and haven’t been identified yet.
“I think everybody is at fault,” Whitt said.
Now his family doesn’t trust the nation’s food supply.
“I’m terrified to eat vegetables,” Whitt said. “I won’t eat them unless they’re cooked. We won’t eat salads. I personally think it’s a broken system right now.” More Great WIRED Stories Everyone wants to go to the moon— logic be damned College Humor gives comedy subscription a serious effort Tips to get the most out of Screen Time controls on iOS 12

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Cats Bad at Nabbing Rats But Feast on Other Beasts

Cats Bad at Nabbing Rats But Feast on Other Beasts Mauricio Duenas/AFP/Getty Images
In the summer of 2017, Michael Parsons found the urban rat haven of his dreams: A Waste Management transfer station—aka a literal trash heap, aka rat paradise—in Brooklyn, New York. For nearly two years, the behavioral ecologist and visiting scholar at Fordham University had been searching for a place to observe the city-dwelling rodents in their natural habitat.
Trouble was, he needed to not only capture the critters and tag them, but then to set them free. Rats are wildly, wildly successful animals, a success that comes at great expense to human health and commerce. They spread disease, gnaw through infrastructure, and demolish foodstores, a cumulative devastation that costs tens of billions of dollars a year. But to stop them, researchers first have to study them. “As the saying goes: Know thy enemy,” Parsons says. “And the only way to know a rat is to catch it and release it, so you can observe it.” As it happened, lots of New Yorkers were ok with Parsons and his colleagues catching their rats, but almost nobody was cool with the releasing part. So when he and his colleagues found a waste processing facility willing to let them do their thing, they were beside themselves. “I’m talking about grown men and women in tears here,” Parsons says, “because this research is that important, and it’s incredibly difficult to do.” But a few months into their investigation, they discovered with horror that five feral cats had infiltrated the waste treatment facility and begun patrolling the entrances to the rats’ burrows. At first, Parsons and his colleagues assumed that the felines posed a mortal threat to their subjects. Then it hit them: They actually had no idea how the rats would respond. Few studies have documented interactions between feral cats and a wild rats. To a behaviorist like Parsons, the cats’ surprise arrival presented an irresistible opportunity. They decided to let nature take its course. Their observations, which the researchers recount in the latest issue of Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution , revealed the cats to be miserable predators of rats—a finding that not only contradicts popular perception, but also adds to growing evidence that feral cats, which are increasingly deployed by major cities across the US to tamp down on rampant rat populations, may pose a far greater threat to smaller, more vulnerable urban wildlife.
One of the camera traps inside the dust-covered waste processing facility Michael Parsons Parson had designed his original experiment to investigate how concentrated rat pheromones attract and repel other rats. That set-up turned out to also be perfect for studying cat-rat interactions. Prior to the cats’ arrival, he and his colleagues had caught some 60 rodents, each of which they weighed, measured, and implanted with a microchip before releasing it back into the dusty bowels of the waste-processing center. In a corner of the facility heavily trafficked by rats, the researchers installed two camera traps and a pair of RFID antennas, which they smeared with various rat pheromones. Every time a chipped animal passed an antenna, a data logger recorded its presence. Meanwhile, the cameras captured video footage of the rats’ behavior in the presence of different pheromones. When the feral cats showed up, the researchers started to monitor instead how the rats behaved in the presence of the cats—and vice versa. “That was the cool part,” says Greg Glass, a disease ecologist at the University of Florida and an expert in rat-control strategies, who was unaffiliated with the study. “It’s one thing to show that cats don’t have much of an impact on rat populations, but the microchips and the cameras let these researchers ask, ok, so if the cats aren’t killing the rats, then what are they doing, exactly?” The answer: Not much. In 79 days, the cameras recorded 306 cat-rat videos, but only 20 instances of stalking and just two successful kills. In fact, the vast majority of the time, the cats showed basically zero interest in the rats. Video by Michael Parsons It might be that the rats are too big and scrappy for the cats to bother hunting. Parsons says cats favor smaller prey like mice and birds, which typically weigh in at under 30 grams. In contrast, the rats at the Brooklyn waste-treatment facility weigh, on average, 339 grams. “That’s just under a pound, but it’s still a lot of rat,” Parsons says. A bigger rodent makes for bigger teeth, bigger claws, and a greater risk of injury to a cat. That might be why the researchers never recorded one snagging a rat on the open floor. The only two kills the researchers caught on video occured when a cat managed to ambush a cornered rat. Video by Michael Parsons Not that the cats had no effect: Videos also showed rats spending less time in the open and more time seeking shelter. That observation jibes with anecdotal evidence from programs that distribute spayed and neutered cats to homes and businesses struggling with rat infestations. “People don’t tell us they’ve seen an increase in rodent carcasses,” says Lauren Lipsey, vice president of community programs at the Humane Rescue Alliance in Washington DC, which has been hiring out feral cats through its Blue Collar Cats program since January 2017. “They tell us that rats are no longer burrowing under their yards and patios—that the cats are just kind of keeping rats away.” But from a pest-control standpoint, keeping rodents out of sight isn’t much of a victory. In fact, it’s probably not even a draw; just because you see fewer rats doesn’t mean they aren’t around, breeding and proliferating as they’re wont to do. “Rats are already very smart,” says Glass, who served for many years on the Mayor’s commission on rat control in Baltimore, Maryland. Oftentimes, he says, when you put pressure on them, “they just get a little smarter.” There’s also the cats’ devastating influence on other urban wildlife to consider. Evidence suggests their impact on birds and small mammals is tremendous, and far greater than it is on rats. In 2013, researchers reporting in the journal Nature Communications estimated that cats kill as many as 4 billion birds and 22 billion mammals in the US every year—a statistic that likely makes them “the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals.” “To me, that suggests the risks of releasing cats far outweigh the rat-control benefits,” Parsons says, who emphasizes that more research is needed. But in this particular waste treatment facility, in this particular Brooklyn neighborhood, the rats appear to be getting on just fine. More Great WIRED Stories Everyone wants to go to the moon— logic be damned College Humor gives comedy subscription a serious effort Tips to get the most out of Screen Time controls on iOS 12

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