Categories: AnimalsGeneral Knowledge

Top 10 Fascinating Facts About Rats

Few creatures in the world inspire more dread than the rat. Long a symbol of death and pestilence, they haunt our nightmares and scuttle in our walls, scaly tails dragging behind them. Rats cause billions of dollars in damage every year, spoiling food supplies, chewing through electrical wires, biting babies in their cribs – and yet their benefits to mankind have been simultaneously overwhelming. Read below for further information on some of our creepiest neighbors.

Norway Rats

Although there are many different species of rats, the one most people associate with the word are Brown or Norway rats. Likely originating in China, the largest specimens can top 2.2lbs. Norway rats plague cities such as New York (where population estimates vary wildly- from a few hundred thousand to a few hundred million depending on your source) and London and have pervaded nearly every corner of the globe with the rare exceptions of Arctic and Antarctic areas, the Canadian province of Alberta, and pockets of New Zealand. The white albino rats used in laboratories and kept as pets are domesticated versions of this species.

Black Rats

Driven to a fraction of their former range by the larger, nastier Brown Rats, Black Rats prefer tropical locales these days, but were once Europe’s dominant species. It was this rat which ushered in the Black Plague. Fleas that lived on the rats transmitted the Yersinia pests bacteria to millions of unwitting victims. The black rat is an excellent climber, and has proven to be the bane of many nesting bird species throughout the world. They are especially pervasive in New Zealand. Unlike their brown counterparts, they tend to be subject to huge population explosions, typically around harvest times when food is abundant.

House Guests

It is nearly impossible to completely rat-proof your home. They can fit in through openings as small as the diameter of a quarter. According to the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, a rat’s teeth are harder than iron or steel, and are easily able to gnaw through substances like cinderblock and wood. Once they have invaded the home, they are very difficult to get ride of. Rats are clever and notoriously trap shy. Using poison has its drawbacks and well. It is dangerous for children and pets, and even if it works precisely as advertised, one still has to deal with the rats, who often hide themselves in the walls to die and fill the house with the obscene reek of rotting flesh.

Zombie Rats

Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite whose life cycle can only come fully to fruition in the body of a cat. Other animals can carry it, but it needs a cat to flourish. And the way it finds a host is insidious – rats who become infected suffer a change in the brain chemistry which causes them to become attracted to, rather than naturally fearful of the scent of felines. Obviously, they don’t last long. Humans also contract toxoplasmosis – some estimates indicate 1/3 of the world’s population has it. Occasionally fatal, it is particularly dangerous for people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women (which is why women are told to avoid cat litter boxes when they are expecting). Toxoplasmosis has also been linked to many other ailments, including schizophrenia.

Rats are Tough

The spread of rats throughout the world was not due entirely to fortunate circumstance. They are able to adapt to different environments without much difficulty. A rat can go longer without water than a camel. It can fall some five stories without injury. They can survive large doses of radiation, and swim for half a mile across open water. Over generations, they tend to build up certain immunities to poisons. And the biggest, feistiest sewer rats can send your average house cat running for the hills.

What’s for Dinner?

While some housecats may have largely lost the ability to take on rats, there are many other creatures that rely on them as a staple of their diets. Owls and hawks, snakes, members of the weasel family, and many large predators eat rats. There any many dog breeds specifically conceived to hunt them – terriers are exceedingly good at eliminating vermin. In many parts of the world, rats are a food source. They are frequently eaten in Africa, China, and other sections of southeast Asia. Even in the same country, there is a fine line between the delicious and the taboo; in certain areas of India, they are considered a delicacy, and in others they are worshiped as scions of the Hindu deity Ganesha.

Lab Rats

There is no underestimating the importance of the laboratory rat in research. Great strides have been made in the medical field using rats. There are several strains, inbred so that they becomes almost genetically identical to each other, including the Wistar, the Sprague-Dawley, and the Long-Evans. However, certain genetic manipulations can result in extremely specific types, such as the Biobreeding rat, which develops Type 1 diabetes, and the Zucker rat, which becomes obese. Lately, rats and mice have been used for tissue engineering, a controversial process wherein rodents can grow skin and cartilage for transplant in humans.

Giant Rats

For those with a fear of rodents, the Gambian Pouched Rat would be an absolute terror. Similar in appearance to a Norway Rat, the Gambian version can grow up to 15lbs. In its native Africa, it is eaten as bushmeat, but its intelligent and tractable nature has also led it to be used to detect land mines. While huge by rat standards, it is small enough to climb over the mines without detonating them. The Gambian pouched rat has also shown a marked propensity for detecting tuberculosis. It can examine a sample of human sputum and declare whether it is infected far quicker than humans can through more scientific methods. Despite its jarring appearance, the giant rat is actually quite friendly and has a growing following as an exotic pet. Ownership was made briefly illegal in the United States when it was discovered the rats were a vector of the disease monkeypox.

Baby Boom

A mating pair of rats can have 5 litters of 7-15 pups in a year, and the pups themselves become fertile around 5 weeks of age. In a vacuum environment, such a pair could theoretically produce hundreds of thousands if not millions of descendants in a single year. Such a prolific rate of breeding is necessarily to keep their species extant, however, because even under auspicious circumstances, a wild rat rarely makes its 2nd birthday. Depending on various environmental factors, the mortality rate is around 95% in a rat’s first few weeks of life.

Rat King

A rat king is a strange freak accident wherein many rats clustered together become inexorably tangled together by their tails. Several have been found since the Middle Ages, but many doubt the veracity of these specimens. Although not strictly reserved to Germany, the vast majority of rat kings seem to have occurred there, lending some credence to the idea that it is a cultural phenomenon and perhaps something of a hoax. The largest rat king known is a cluster of 32 mummified black rats found in a miller’s fireplace in Buchheim, Germany in 1828. It can be seen on display at the Mauritianum Museum in Altenburg, Germany. Historically, rat kings have been seen as a terrible omen associated with death and disease.

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  • Really it's very interesting material about the rats . Indian's like it as a vehicle of lord Ganesh . But that create so many problems in our houses and in the field because it cut the clothes and craps .

    • But that create so many problems in our houses and in the field because it cut the clothes and craps . Yeah, that's a big problem with some pets - they gotta poo. A while back I had an Indian ringneck parrot. He was adorable.. I got him as a chick, spoon fed him in his early days, even taught him to talk and all. The only issue I had with him was his poo. He was very sociable and liked to be out of his cage.. no problem, except I hated his crap on my clothes and the furniture. It got to the point where enough was enough, and I had to say to him "Look, I love ya but this arrangement really isn't working." I gave him to a mate. I like being able to visit him and not having to put up with his ish all over my stuff.

  • I remember asking for a Rats list after the one on Cockroaches a few years back. Since then TyB came and went - still no rats lists - so I'm glad it's finally here. I'm not affraid of rats but some of those photos were turning my stomach a bit. I find vermin are quite interesting - and it's funny how often they appear as friendly creatures in cartoons - Mickey Mouse, Jerry Mouse, Speedy Gonzalez - all vermin! I particularly enjoyed the comments today and tips for removing them - antifreeze and 50/50 flour/concrete mix - nice! Maybe then you could use them as fishing weights? :lol: A good list and a double thumbs up from me. (Still waiting for a list on Maggots though...)

  • I LOVE Rats! I had the misfortune of working at Petco for a few months and every day I was so depressed having to sell these poor creatures as snake food. Before I left I bought two awesome little rat girls and they are A-MA-ZING! So much nicer/smarter than Gerbils or Hamsters. They get such a bad rap, yet they are so so sooo cool.

  • Good and amazing List for the facts of Rat Involved in the different facts. http://muscleextreme.net/

  • Rats make good pets. They are actually pretty clean and friendly. That is, the non-wild pet-store variety. cheap, too.

  • rats are meta-cognizant meaning they are aware of being aware. only hey handful of species has been proven to have this. humans and dolphins being 2 of them. don't ask me how they figure that out. also pet rats are the same species is the Norway rats that has been bred for specific qualities just as a dog is the same species as a wolf that was bread 4 specific qualities. also rocks and cats are not mortal enemies. I have 2 of each. I did not train them to be friends they did it naturally. they eat meals together and groom each other. on occasion they have cuddled together. rats are also potty trained easily. my rats free roam my house and go to their cage to do their business.