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Interesting Facts About Rats

Theophanes is a New-England-based blogger, traveler, writer, photographer, sculptor, and lover of cats.

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!
  • 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 of 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 world 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 called 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 have this luxury, so if you have one 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.

© 2008 Theophanes Avery


Will loveless on August 29, 2017:

I had rats for years.......didn't care for the stinky rodents myself....but my snakes LOVED them to death.

GalaxyRat on June 27, 2017:

Thanks for the information.

hello on June 23, 2017:

I love rats

Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on October 22, 2013:

No problem. I know it's difficult sometimes. I had rats for many years- had to give them up because I developed a fierce and worsening allergy to them. I still miss them and although I've gone onto other things they'll always reside in a special place in my heart. Personally I found them to be more personable then a lot of dogs I've met. It's a bleeding shame they don't live very long. Right before I developed my allergies I was waiting for the Monkey Pox Ban to break so I could get a breeding pair of Gambians legally. They live up to 7 years.. but alas, that took too long to happen. Not even sure if anyone has them in the US any more, besides of course the feral colonies in the Everglades, dumped at the onset of the Monkey Pox Ban by pet shops who knew they could no longer sell them. DUH! People sometimes....

Jessica Peri from United States on October 22, 2013:

These are some awesome facts and adorable pictures. Gambian Rats are huge, but pretty amazing. And thanks again for the advice - it's really helping me cope.

Gotta Love Rats on January 07, 2013:

Another Fact: Rats are the eighth smartest animal in the world, humans are twelfth

One More: Rats can hold their breath underwater for as long as 15 minutes


Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on December 26, 2012:

I am not sure what you mean by that question. The first generation of lab rats were born to captured wild albino and a wild agouti-colored rat. The first generation would have been albinos and solid agouti in color. If this isn't the question you asked just rephrase and I will give it another go. :)

poop on December 26, 2012:

what was the first generation of lab rats

John Kimbrell on November 10, 2012:

My pet rat, Applelonia, would come out at night and search my face for any abnormality. She would remove scabs without damageing the underlying tissue - a practice which my doctor, unaware, later instructed me to do in order to prevent bacterial infections. Luckily, she didn't catch any deseases from me (smile).

SHANNA on August 02, 2012:

HEEEY i loveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee rats i just got a baby today hes the cutiestttttttttttttttttttt omg when he sleeps u can put him on his back and he looks dead and its cuteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on June 08, 2012:

I have never heard of that behavior parveen. Perhaps you just have a quirky rat or maybe she's just grooming as rats often do. I had a rat that would get his paws wet and then lick up the water off them, maybe this is the same behavior?

parveen thakur on June 02, 2012:

I have a snow wight rat .....i want to know , why the continuse swalow (suck) there feet,hands or a tail......when they drink water ,then the do that immediate ....why the do this .

Grace on May 07, 2012:

I have a pet rat, they are very playful nice and CUTE!!!! when i told my friends about my new pet they all made fun of me... i still have her, too :)

Esther on April 26, 2012:

Hi, I would live to have a rat :) I've researched them now for over 2 months and I've never neglected my pet that I have now which is a bird that I bought out of my own money. They sound like amazingly fun lol critters.

I've talked to my mother and she just says "no they are disgusting dirty creatures!" I've tried sharing some interesting facts about them like intelligence and cleanliness and traits, but she still hates them.

I have saved up more than enough money to buy a cage 2 female rats, toys, food etc but I haven't come straight out an told her I want a rat yet, because too soon could ruin my chances altogether. Please if ANYONE has any tip on how to make her at least not mind rats I would be extremely grateful!!!

Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on April 16, 2012:

Why thank you for that pointless trolling comment "Rat ruler." Why are you still up? Isn't it past your bedtime? Do your parents know you're up antagonizing random people online? TSK TSK.

Rat ruler on April 16, 2012:

I HATE RATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mitch on April 15, 2012:

I just saw a wild albino rat in greenfield,ma. I was walking. With mt girlfriend and she spotted it walking along the sidewalk towards us. It then jumped Down into a sewer grate. We watched it for a bit then it jumped farther down. It was really exciting n never seen a wild rat especially an albino one where I live. 4/15/12

Rat ruler on April 05, 2012:

I love my pet rat

Woof on April 02, 2012:

Hopefully the info about the Bubonic plague will help convince my parent to get 2 rats.

jake on March 07, 2012:

Yah I've got a pet rat I love and well it didn't tell wat I need but now I think its more interesting

austin on March 06, 2012:

rats are funny

Lorissa on March 03, 2012:

I am on here because i got a project about rats in elementary the project is called rat island so bye hope u get to read this.

hannah on February 03, 2012:

thouse are really intresting facts

abster123 on January 25, 2012:

cool facts LOL on December 18, 2011:

Rats are amazing little creatures! By the way did u know that: There is is just about always a rat within about 10 feet from you.


jonathan on December 10, 2011:

rats are kindof cute but they get in stuff to much

tracy ann strickler on November 20, 2011:

i hav 4 1 is pretty big they are all meals and then 3 med, they are realy smart i let the big one run on my bed he sleeps on my pillow and the outhers love to play in ther play pin they have lots of toys they are the love of me and joy of my boyfriends life we love are rats and would be deavastated if they died on use we have had the big one for 3 years and the other3 four 7 nouthes ther grate pets,

charlotte on November 05, 2011:

i love rats but some people go all silly coz their tails

elesia on November 02, 2011:

hi i have 2 rats named pepsi and coc

jessica on October 29, 2011:

sierra im so sorry hope you feel better

sierra on October 26, 2011:

my pet rats died

im so sad

jeremytorres on October 25, 2011:

Lab rats is great, Thanks for the information.

Ben on September 30, 2011:

Rats really are amazing creatures! I have two. One I got about 6 months ago now and the newest one about a week ago. and when I got her I had a feeling something was up because the size of her belly but i wasn't to sure if she was pregnant or if she was just fat. And today I walk into my room to find little pinkies all over the cage! It's very cool to watch her nurse her babies and i'm definetley adding one to the family! for the rest, (6 others) I have already found wonderful homes for. THE ONLY thing I have against rats is them tearing up my furniture! I cant let my eyes of them without them getting themselves into trouble. perhaps a male rat is more for me!

kk on September 26, 2011:

rats are cool.

kk on September 26, 2011:

i love rats

firstdestination on September 05, 2011:

I like your destination....

Its a pure work of good research....thanks for such wonderful information.

I have tried to write something on Rats... hope you like it

Angelic92 from Belgium on September 03, 2011:

I have a pet rat and it is cute :)

Also an Albino rat that did need some taming at the start but got used to me very fast.

ratter on July 28, 2011:

I am fostering 13 rats (2 moms had babies at the shelter). The females have weaned the babies and they're bored of their cage. How do you entertain an energetic female rat, while making sure she doesn't get into some small area and get lost??? I'm a male rat person and the females are just so energetic and fast, they make me nervous because I don't want to lose one! Please Help!

StephenSMcmillan on July 11, 2011:

Very2x wonderful hub, I really2x love it.

crazy4rats on June 29, 2011:

im gonna get a rat i dont know if i should get a boy or a girl


crazy4rats on June 29, 2011:

what is the diff between dumbo rats and fancy rats? which one has better health

Maya on June 20, 2011:

Rats also excreate a blood like supstance from pores around their eyes when stressed. This happened with my PEW named Blood(coincidently), about a year after I've had him, and this was shocking. So I looked to see why that happened and it turns out its nothing to worry about.

o on June 19, 2011:

rats are wonderful

Marina on May 27, 2011:

Rats are so cool. My rat presses his nose against the screen whenever he sees a picture of a rat.

Lilly on May 09, 2011:

My dad has two white rats with red eyes People think that rats r awful but they can be great pets.

Vitamin on April 27, 2011:

Rats are really good pets. All people, who hate rats just have no experience of close interaction with them and also just afraid of it. I may agree that wild rats may be unpleasant, but pet rats are the different. I guess, that any mammal animal have it's own charm, and pet rats not the the worst of them.

tiffany on April 18, 2011:

rats are awsome like miss hokie

AnnaH on April 01, 2011:

i think rats are gross..but i found out they are not that bad. they seem really cool and very intersting to check out about. see i have to do this anatomy research for my class and i choose a rat after i could not find any thing else on other animals. overall, rats are pretty cool and again very intersting.

Ch3lz3y on March 28, 2011:

Absolutelyly facinating I mean like im twelve ok and I am scared of rats but... they have the most facinating history EVER!!!

Lori S. on February 27, 2011:

What is the best way to choose a rat from the pet store? Shouls I let the rat come to me? What are foods that rats like and what foods should they stay away from?

Tim on February 17, 2011:

Hi I need some help my neighbor has a garden with bird feeders, nut feeders flowers and more. I have seen mice run in and out of her garden. She has reported me to our home owners ass. Saying that I'm attracting rats by not picking up after my cog every day and rats eat dog poop is that true? Please let me know and how to prove it. Thanks Tim

lizzie on February 16, 2011:

hay i have seen a rat with red eyes

rat man on February 15, 2011:

rats breed so fast that in 18 months 2 rats can have 1 million descendants.. fact

dont know!!! on February 08, 2011:

i love rats i got a ret his name i larry and he licks and he does loads of tricks!!!!

hailey on January 31, 2011:

i love rats

Tzudro on January 27, 2011:

A rat, similar to a cat, has the ability to fit its body through any opening its head will fit through.

A rat can tread water for two days before drowning.

A rate can swim for several miles before tiring and drowning.

A rat can chew through materials such as copper and concrete. While it takes a considerable amount of time, and puts an enormous amount of wear on their teeth, the rat will usually accomplish their goal, as their teeth continually grow.

A rat has the ability to "shed" the skin from its tail in times of duress, such as when the tail gets caught in an opening, under a fallen or heavy object, or when in the jaws of a predator. The skin will grow back, but the rat is particularly prone to infection during this time.

When facing an opponent, a rat will stay very close to the target. Due to their poor eyesight, they will fan their whiskers forward and attempt to keep in contact with their foe.

Kay on January 10, 2011:

My rat had ten babies last week... Now she only has three.... They are in a cage and there is no way they got out... Did she eat them?

ruby4352 from Australia on January 07, 2011:

Hey I'm not following you yet but I have two pet rats and your hub is probably the most useful hub on here for me even though they are just interesting facts.

Alli Kat on January 07, 2011:

This is a Wonderful Article! All the facts are interesting, an i have a few other facts about rats, rats can have chocolate But Not oranges, Their Teeth never stop growing, they are great pets, they hate hamster balls because of their tail's, Their Closterphobic, (Even tho they squeeze through tight spaces), and they move they heads back and forth to detect motion (somehow idk)

Ratatoui on January 03, 2011:

i like to eat ratatoui, hmmmmmmmmmm nice rats

kehl on October 22, 2010:

rats are cool

ratperson53 on October 14, 2010:

I know that rats can't burp.

sparta_rat on October 06, 2010:

wow this is very cool and my rats think so to they are climding all over my cp

rats are awsome

Amez from Houston, Texas on September 27, 2010:

Wow its amazing tosee how many people love Rats, I thought I was told I was weird for raising Rats, but their quit smart and fun to watch, if you build them a large enviroment to live in,but never let them get lose, they will enjoy all your boxes of paper and getting into the box springs.

mandy palmer on September 02, 2010:

my old male rat cheesey puts his paw out the cage and then up to his mouth and asks me for treats hes so clever.i have also just got three hairless girls they are stunning.

random person on August 13, 2010:

the red stuf is called porphyrin which is caused by stress

Tydin on July 08, 2010:

The stuff they sneeze isn't blood it's just the colour of their mucus. Same for their eyes too. So relax he's a normal rat

Rats r awesome!!!!!!! on July 04, 2010:

OMG i love rats and this article has helped me soooo much. at the moment im trying to teach my pet rat tricks!!!!! it would be sooo cool if you could put videos of more rats doing tricks because at the moment my rat isn't learning that well. Anyway does anyone know why rats bleed when they sneeze or is that just my rat??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

?!? on July 02, 2010:

:) these facts ROCK! i was thinkin about getting a pet rat but my mom hates em and i want her to see how awesome they are

adorababy from Syracuse, NY on June 14, 2010:

I agree with Emilie. No offense but red eyes or not they are yuck. Sorry though, this is just my opinion.

Emilie on June 09, 2010:

The rats with red eyes are so yuck.The facts were interesting

ratzilla on May 20, 2010:

i am getting two rats i don't know about the diet can you tell me any ideas of what i need?

willie stroker on May 17, 2010:

random fish are related to elephants and rats

William Shakespear on May 17, 2010:

rats are epic im going to make one the main character of my next performance. red bull gives you wings

margret on May 16, 2010:

i have a 4 week old rat and she is so cute.

Beth on April 25, 2010:

hello i have 5 pet rats and i love them

lori s on April 23, 2010:

Nicole, You can buy a bottle of scent remover from your local pet store that will get rid of the smell. Just add three drop[s to your rat's water bottle. you should notice a difference in a few days. You can also mix baking soda in with their litter. two or three table spoons should help.

Nicole on April 22, 2010:

I Have grown up with rats and i hated the smell

lori s. on April 14, 2010:

neddd have you thought of taking them to your local pet store. They will usually be glad to take any healthy rats.

Neddd on April 14, 2010:

i have sixteen rat babys any takers i have sixteen to come i live in nh anyone want

lori s. on April 14, 2010:

I have to be away from squinch for a week. What can I do to make sure he is going to be happy and well while I'm gone?

Lucero on April 13, 2010:

there IS such thing as fllying squirrels...

It might be one...


alfred means on April 09, 2010:

2 nights ago i witnessed a rat glide or fly from a tree to a light pole, climb to the top of the light pole and then glide to another tree. My question is there such a thing as a flying rat? or is there another type of rodent that flies but looks like a rat. Unfortunately i don't remember much about the tail, but it definitely looked like a rat. If you don't know or haven't heard of such a thing could you tell me where i might find out? I live in central Florida.

Please respond via email Thank you.

Lori s. on April 08, 2010:

Kim, you need to clean up your language!! Some of us really like rats and don't appreciate nasty comments. This site is dedicated to those of us who like rats! If you don't like rats stay off the site!

lisa brazeau from Canada on April 04, 2010:

My pet rat, Irene, was a dear little thing. Like any pet owner, the list is long on her attributes. Great article, and it tipped me over the edge in my musing to get another!Thank you!

Dudette on March 31, 2010:

humans have the same genes to grow a tail as rats the gene is just switched off in humans!!

mitch on March 07, 2010:

rats rule

lori s. on March 07, 2010:

Hey Mcawesome, I don't think what you said was nice. that makes you less than awesome in my book!

lori s. on March 06, 2010:

My current rat is still skittish with me. I've tried feeding him with my fingers and petting him before I pick him up. Does anybody have a new way that they used to get a timid pet comfortable with them? By the way his name is squinch and he is a black hooded.

lori s on March 05, 2010:

Did you know that rats can't throw up so you have to be careful what you feet them. I've had rats for a number of years and find them to be sweet, gentle, pets

s on February 28, 2010:

good to known

lulu on February 22, 2010:

thanx i got an a+ on my projects about rats

KAIRA on February 13, 2010:

my rats eat anything (apart from chewing gum of course)

and they are perfectly healthy :D they eat whatever i eat, chocolate, burgers, even toffee. i put it in the fridge first though so that its really hard and harder to chew :) makes their work harder XD i read somewhere that if a rat chatters its teeth it means they're happy, mine do it a lot so i hope they really are happy with me :)

Katherine on February 06, 2010:

I have had two rats and I have two more there so lovly

Catherine on January 25, 2010:

This Article was very helpful because it helped me do some of my homework for Girl Scouts. Thanks a Bunch!!! :)

elle on January 18, 2010:

i might be getting a rat soon and i know a bit about them one fact i know is that a boy and a girl ratcan make babies in two seconds! another one is that a female rat goes into heat every four to five days! rats reach pubity at six to eight months. rats can eat chocolate but they try to avoid it so dont force them to eat chocolate.

briana on January 12, 2010:

i have a rat named splinter her nails are long like her sister do you have any tips on how to cut them. i also notised the older she gets the lazyershe get,when she was a baby she was crazynow not so much

Paige on January 12, 2010:

hi i have a rat fact for you. Rats tails are sensitive. rubbing a rats tail is like some one rubbing the bottom of your foot.

Melyssa T on December 24, 2009:

Hello. I have heard this before and wanted to know if you could confirm it. I have heard that if you have a rat in your home, as pet or otherwise, a mouse will not enter. Is that true?

chrissyjones on December 21, 2009:

I have been watching a family (1 female and 5 juveniles) of wild rats every day where I work. I saw the mother nip the backside of a pheasant and chase a rabbit! This family is so cute, all this goes on 2 mtr from a window. Awesome. x