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Thursday, 6 July 2017


Rats of the species Rattus rattus are black; Rattus norvegicus rats are brown.

'Rattus norvegicus' was given its name around 1770 in the belief that it came from Norway, but there were no brown rats in Norway at the time.


The cause of the Black Death, a terrible epidemic of plague that swept across Asia and Europe in the mid 14th century, was the bacterium Yersinia pestis, transmitted by fleas that infested migrating Asian black rats.

As the Black Death swept across England one theory was that cats caused the plague. Thousands were slaughtered. Ironically, those that kept their cats were less affected, because they kept their houses clear of the real culprits, rats.

When Czar Peter III, ruler of Russia, was 25, he hanged a large rat in public because it had eaten his toy soldiers.

The brown rat, was probably originally a native of Asia. It emigrated much later than the black rat, reaching Europe around 1553.

The first brown rats recorded in America appeared in Boston in 1775.


One of the oldest and most historic stories about rats is "The Pied Piper of Hamelin". The citizens of the German town of Hamelin promised to pay the piper a large fee if he could eradicate the nasty rats running all over the place. He played some enchanted music on his pipe and the rats followed him out of town and into the River Weser. But once the rodents were eliminated, the local folks decided not to pay after all. This made the piper angry and he repaid the townspeople by playing his pipe for the children of Hamelin, just like he had done for the rats. The Pied Piper led the kids into a hole in a hillside, never to be seen again.

Even though the Pied Piper of Hamelin is just a myth, the town of Hamelin's records state that many children disappeared from the town around the time of the story. The town chronicle even wrote in 1384 "It is 100 since our children left".

In the account of the story by the Brothers Grimm, July 22, 1376 was the day the rat-catcher led the children out of Hamelin. However, Robert Browning’s poem "The Pied Piper Of Hamelin" gives a different date:
"At Hammel in Saxony, on the 20th of June, 1484, the Devil, in the likeness of a pied piper [pied piper] , carried away 130 children, that were never after seen."

The most famous rat-catcher in Victorian England was Jack Black who not only caught rats but bred them as pets or for rat-baiting contests. Though Black promoted himself as official rat catcher to the Queen, he never had a royal warrant though he certainly worked in the royal palaces,

Warren Beatty used to work as a rat catcher before he found fame as an actor.


During the 1870 Siege of Paris, the hungry citizens were forced to resort to eating rats, which were sold for 10-15 sous each in the Place de L'Hotel de Ville.

The price of rat meat was reported to have quadrupled in Cambodia in 2008 as inflation put other meat beyond the reach of poor people.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated rat meat makes up half the locally produced meat consumed in Ghana, where cane rats are farmed and hunted for human consumption.

Rat meat dishes in Yangshuo, Guangxi, China


In 1895 Clark University in Worchester, Massachusetts became the first to breed a population of domestic white brown rats. They used them to study the effects of diet and for other physiological studies. Since then, rats have been used in many experiments.

Scientists have applied electrodes to the pleasure center in a rat's brain. The rat pressed a lever 48,000 times over a full day in order to receive that shock that seemed to him pleasurable, choosing the stimulator instead of having water or food or sex.

In 2005, Spanish researchers showed that rats can be trained to distinguish spoken Japanese from spoken Dutch.

Entirely new breeds or "lines" of brown rats  have been bred for use in laboratories. A Zucker rat, for instance, is a laboratory rat strain that is bred to be genetically prone to diabetes.

A Zucker rat Wikipedia


Nobody knows how many rats there are in the UK. Recent estimates vary between 10.5 million and 81 million.

The Canadian province of Alberta is considered to be rat-free. It is notable for being the largest inhabited area on Earth, that is free of true rats.

Rats are highly "productive animals". A female rat can mate as many as 500 times with various males during a six-hour period of receptivity—a state she experiences about 15 times per year.

A pair of brown rats can produce as many as 2,000 descendants in a year if left to breed unchecked


Female giant jumping rats have four nipples: two in the armpits and two in the groin.

A rat can squeeze through holes or gaps the size of a quarter because its skull is not plated together, so it can change the shape of its head and squeeze through a very small opening.

They are able to leap 4 feet laterally.

A rat can fall from a five story building without injuries.

Rats can distinguish between blue and green but red appears dark to them. They can also be trained to tell visible light from ultraviolet.

A rat's sense of smell is excellent, even exceeding that of dogs. The Belgian non-governmental organization APOPO has trained rats to detect landmines and diagnose tuberculosis through smell.

Rats can neither burp, nor vomit.


Rats can tread water for three days straight and can hold their breath for three minutes.

Rats can last longer without water than camels.

Rats are capable of swimming up pipes and into toilets.

Rats emit an ultrasonic giggle when they are tickled and during playtime. These vocalizations fall in a range between 20-100khz which is outside the range of human hearing.


The Karni Mata temple in Rajasthan, India, is home to some 20,000 sacred rats.

Three thousands rats were specially bred for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Rats have been trained in Cambodia to detect landmines. They are too light to set the mines off and can smell the explosive compound extremely well. The rats are very fast and can clear an area three times faster than use of electronic mine sweepers and with higher accuracy.

Sources Compton's Encyclopedia, Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts, Daily Express

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