A Little Rat Biology



There they are.  One female can produce 60-70 babies in a year.  Each of those female babies can get pregnant at 3 months of age.  Each litter can have 12 babies (and she's only pregnant 22 days).  Guess what?  That's a LOT of rats!  















Like all rodents, they're built for gnawing, whether that's a wooden door or a lead pipe.  Their eyesight is poor but their hearing is spectacular, as is their sense of smell.  Their whiskers and sensory hairs are used to navigate tight spaces and their long hairless tails provide support and balance.  They're great climbers with their paw pads and claws, which they also use as hands to hold and manipulate food, for instance.  



A rat can shimmy up a dangling wire, climb a vertical wall of brick or stucco or pull itself up in the space between a wall and a utility pipe.  The smaller roof rats can walk telephone wires and they are also excellent diggers.


Among the more impressive feats, a rat can swim for three days without stop (although shame on the persons that conducted this experiment).  She can survive a 50-foot fall and land like a cat, uninjured.  He can wriggle through a whole the size of a quarter and can jump 2 feet straight up.  

Even more impressive is their spatial memory and ability to solve labyrinths.  Rats have an excellent sense of their location.  






There are two myths about rats that need to be dispelled:  that rats are dirty and that they are savages.  

The fact is that rats are very clean, constantly washing themselves (and very thoroughly too, watch them at the pet store the next time you're there).  

Also, they live in colonies several hundred strong and prefer to sleep in a huge heap.  Each group has a particular scent and the lead, or alpha, male is respected.  While of course they defend their territory, they usually manage to avoid a violent confrontation, with serious injuries being very rare.  

So, they are clean and live in families, which is necessary considering the tight quarters they live in.






Some call them eating and breeding "machines", but "Its combination of intelligence, tenacity and survival instinct is arguably unparalleled in nature.  A city rat, given enough time, can chew through a concrete wall to get where it needs to go – and in many cities contractors have started adding crushed glass to poured concrete to stop their inevitable tunneling."

quoted from http://commandax.blogspot.com/2008/02/banksys-rat-appreciation.html





And Why Those Darn Critters Are So Hard to Kill


While a rat may wander up to a 1/4 mile in search of food, she'll often carry it back to the nest to eat it.  This is important to the welfare of the colony, because the other rats can then learn of her success and go find the same source of food.  But if the rat becomes ill and dies, the other rats also will avoid that source.  




Robert Sullivan, rat expert and author of Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants, had this to say about the battle between homo sapiens and rattus norvegicus:  "Rat-control programs are like diets, in that cities are always trying a new one."  


So, we humans continue to create "better and better" rat poisons (never mind the effect on the rest of the environment) and end up not reducing the rat population in the end... but creating a "better" rat! 




Yet city governments have long ignored the fact that poisoning rat populations actually makes them stronger. The surviving rats have more food, so they get bigger, and at the same time their litter sizes increase dramatically, so that the next generation more than replaces the lost members of the previous generation, and within a few months, the population explodes. Experts say the best way to control rats is to eliminate their food source, as rat populations naturally regulate themselves according to the amount of food available.

from http://commandax.blogspot.com/2008/02/banksys-rat-appreciation.html


So the best rat control method is very simple:  stop feeding them!  This is what's now taught at the Rat Control Academy, begun in 2005 as part of the New York City Health Department.  "We don't have major rat infestations  unless there's a major food available," stated teacher and rat expert Bob Corrigan.  "When people say 'How do I get rid of rats?' the first thing I always say is 'Tell me what they're eating.'"

from the bookRat:  How the World's Most Notorious Rodent Clawed its Way to the Top by Jerry Langton




In the meantime, consider the philosophy of Banksy, a London graffiti artist notorious for his rat artwork: "If you feel dirty, insignificant or unloved, then rats are a good role model. They exist without permission, they have no respect for the hierarchy of [human] society, and they have sex 50 times a day."

from http://commandax.blogspot.com/2008/02/banksys-rat-appreciation.html








And finally, if you still think you have the winning hand, contemplate this:




tables from the book Rat:  How the World's Most Notorious Rodent Clawed its Way to the Top by Jerry Langton

blocks from the book  Rats, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly by Richard Conniff


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These pages created by Karen Waschinski
Questions?  Comments?  Please e-mail me at woosel[at]scratchingatthewindow.com

~~Dà Fhaol Mharbh: A Vampyre's Faerytale by Karen Waschinski~~