An army of 120 million randy brown rats is on the move and heading straight for warm British homes, pest control chiefs have warned.
The scorching summer has resulted in harder ground than normal meaning rats have not been able to make as many burrows as usual.
Instead millions are hiding out in empty buildings, sheds and warehouses.
But as the weather worsens they will emerge and head into warm houses to breed.
Pest control chiefs say the rats – almost twice the size of the UK's human population – have been "running riot" in empty buildings since lockdown but are now on the hunt for warmth.
They are responsible for millions of pounds worth of damage to homes across the UK after causing fires by gnawing through electrical cables and structural damage by eating away beams.
Householders have been warned to prepare for a "ratinvasion" as the rodents – which can each have up 72 babies a year – sneak into cosy lofts, attics and stair cupboards to escape the cold weather.
Pest controllers are expecting a 40% rise in call-outs and have warned anyone who hears scuttling and scratching sounds to investigate.
Tim Finley, 46, from Maidstone, Kent, was left petrified after finding a nest of baby rats in his loft.
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"I had nightmares about it,'' he said. "It was like a horror film.
"This is the year of the rat according to the Chinese zodiac.''
Paul Bates, the boss of Cleankill Pest Control, said the summer heatwave made it harder for the rodents to burrow in hard soil.
"Rats have been more visible on the surface as the ground was baked hard during the heatwave, making burrowing much more difficult,'' he said.
"Lockdown has also led to rodents running riot in empty buildings in search of leftover food.
"At a time when we feel like bolting our doors and keeping the cold outside it is hardly surprising that rats are trying to join us in our sanctuaries of warmth.
"A rat can get through tiny gaps and rat colonies can grow at an alarming rate and, where you may have thought you were only sharing with one or two rats, you'll soon find you are sharing with a very large family.
"They will not only scratch, gnaw and rip items apart to make nesting materials but they will also chew beams and joists, causing structural damage, and through electrical cables, which can cause fires.''
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