Interesting Facts About Rats
Interesting Facts About Rats
When most people think of rats, they think of sewer rats or the plague. These ingenious little creatures have been marching at our side since the beginning of civilization, however, and not everyone detests them so much. In fact, there are lots of reasons to love them including their colorful history of living with us.
- Our current domestic strain of rats likely began in England in the seventeenth century. Jack Black, the royal rat catcher to Queen Victoria, was rumored to have bred the first albino rats in captivity. Before this rats were killed as vermin, used as food in times of plague, and captured live or bred to use in a sport called rat baiting where one dog was challenged to kill as many rats as it could in a certain time period. Albinos may have been encouraged in captive specimens because they show blood better, but it wasn't long before they started becoming pets for ladies of high learning.
- Sprague Dewley are a well known laboratory strain that was developed to produce very large litters. These litters often contain more than twenty pups!
Rat Performing Tricks
- Most rats in captive populations are a domesticated strain of Rattus norvigicus. These animals probably originated in Asia, but they were so good at jumping on our ships and travelling with us to new lands that we may never be able to trace back their original country of origin.
- Sometimes also found in the pet population, Gambian Pouch Rats are an African species that can weigh more than 8 pounds in adulthood. These rats are so intelligent that they have been trained to sniff out mines in war-torn countries.
- Fancy rats usually live anywhere between 1 and 3 years of age with 2 probably being about average. However, one remarkable rat who died in 1995 made it into the Guinness Book of World Records by living for seven whole years and four months!
- Rat math: Female rats can sometimes breed as early as six weeks of age and can have back to back litters every month until they are between one and a half and two years of age. That means one female having litters of eight pups each could have more than 180 babies in her life!
- The Black Death, or Bubonic Plague, has long been blamed on rats, but it really wasn't the rats who caused it. Instead, it was an organism living in the fleas that the rats carried. When an infected flea bit a human it was usually curtains for them. The Bubonic Plague still exists, and there are an average two cases per year in the US, although the advent of antibiotics has made it much less deadly.
- There is a temple in India called the Karni Devi that has housed thousands of rats for hundreds of years. Far from being pests, they are revered. The temple was built for them, and the people who visit worship them as their reincarnated ancestors. Albino rats seen in this population are believed to be the Goddess Karni Matta or her sons. People share food with these rats, walk barefoot through their temple, and if they kill a rat, even by accident, they must replace it with a life-sized gold rat statue. Curiously, while the black death swept through the area, people in the temple never fell ill. This is likely because the local healthy population of rats kept out infected intruders.
- Rats were one of the first animals sent into outer space. In 1961 the first rat to see outer space was launched from France.
- The yellow teeth of a rat show their maturity, as babies initially have white teeth. These tough teeth continue to grow for as long as the rat lives because if they didn't the rat would file them down to nothing which would eventually cause starvation when it could no longer chew its food.
- Conrad Gesner was the first to record the appearance of wild albino rats in the Western wold when he spotted two in a cemetery in 1553.
- Rats entered the laboratory for the first time in 1828. Albino, black, and piebald (those displaying white) were favored over their brown, wild-type counterparts.
- The Wistar Institute in Pennsylvania started the first inbred laboratory strain which remains today one of the most popular strains to inhabit laboratory settings.
- Cloning in its most rudimentary form was first practiced with these inbred strains. Rats were mated brother to sister until all resulting offspring were 99% genetically identical. In case you're wondering, that's at least 300 generations of rats. Even real clones aren't that identical to each other.
Gambian Rats Finding Land Mines and Detecting Tuberculosis
- Early sleep studies involved tireless researchers poking rats awake to see the effects. At the time, people did not know what the role of sleep was, but they didn't think a lack of it could kill you. During the experiment, the rats that they kept awake steadily declined in health as well as emotional attitude. They became aggressive and disoriented, lost chunks of hair, formed lesions on their feet and tails, ate more but lost weight, and eventually their internal organs went completely haywire. After 17 to 20 days of sleep deprivation, they'd finally find the sweet mercy of death.
- A more humane study has found that rats laugh, or at least they make a noise that resembles laughter in its meaning. The rats studied made these noises (undetectable by the human ear alone) when tickled.
- Mice and rats weren't always considered two different creatures. Surely the Romans didn't feel they were, instead calling them Rattus Major (big rat) and Rattus Minor (little rat.)
- There are at least 4 genetically unique strains of furless rats within the laboratory setting as well as in the pet trade. In the pet trade they're often call Sphynx.
- Rats use their whiskers to feel where they are going because their eyesight is too poor to be of much help. This is why you'll rarely see one out in the open where its whiskers aren't touching a border of some sort. This would leave them vulnerable to hawks and other predators.
- Humans have employed rats as laboratory assistants, companions, religious icons, and characters in popular fables. They have even taken on the jobs of feeding the desperately poor with their meat, finding potentially live mines, and some have even been trained by electricians to drag wire through walls.
- Legend dictates that rats are to be the first animal on the Chinese Zodiac.
- Rats cannot vomit or sweat. Most rats use their tail to get rid of excess heat. Tailless rats don't ave this luxury, so if you have on of those keep them cool!
- The royal rat catcher of Queen Victoria gave an albino rat to Beatrix Potter, the author of the much loved Peter Rabbit series. She was one of the very first pet owners of such animals and she even put this beloved pet into at least one of her stories.
If you have an interesting or unusual rat fact, let me know and I'll add it! All photos were taken by me of rats I've bred over the years at the Oh Rats Rattery.
The Rat Temple
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.