Unless you have a pet rat, they probably aren't your favorite animal and you don't want them in or even around your home, but in spite of their bad reputations, rats are pretty interesting creatures.
Rats are various medium-sized, long-tailed rodents of the superfamily Muroidea. “True rats” are members of the genus Rattus, the most important of which to humans are Rattus rattus, the black rat and Rattus norvegicus, the brown rat.
Black rats have a slender body about 6 1/2 to 8 inches long. They weigh about 6 to 12 ounces. Their color varies from black to brownish-gray. Their underside varies from gray to white. Their nose and muzzle are pointed, their eyes are large and prominent and their ears are large and cover the eyes if bent forward. They have a hairless tail which has a uniform color and is longer than their head and body.
Brown rats or Norway rats have a heavy and thick body about 7 to 10 inches long. They weigh about 10 to 17 ounces. Their color may vary from grayish-brown, a pure gray to a blackish- or reddish-brown. Their underside is gray to yellow-white. Their nose and muzzle are blunt, their eyes are small and their ears are close to the body and won’t cover the eyes if bent forward. Their tail is dark on top with a lighter underside and shorter than their head and body.
Most rats live in communities, in which they groom each other, sleep together and even play. However, they are territorial, so they can turn aggressive toward unfamiliar rats. A group of rats is called a mischief, a pack or a swarm.
They also have a powerful social chain of command in which the largest and strongest rats get the best food.
Rats very lovable animals. They love being in the group of their own species or humans. They like playing collectively and love to sleep curled up together. They take care of the injured and sick rats in their group. And they can even become lonely, depressed, anxious and stressed.
Rats are more intelligent than rabbits, hamsters, mice, gerbils and guinea pigs and have excellent memories. Once rats learn a direction-finding route, they never forget it. Rats are curious and will choose to run away rather than confront a potential threat.
Rats have been used throughout history as food for people and pets, religious icons, laboratory animals, pets, mine detectors, animals used in sports and some have even been trained to drag wires through walls making some electricians’ jobs go much faster.
Rats have very poor eyesight and are colorblind and most are right-handed. Rats have been proven to make a laughter-like noise when tickled and dream while sleeping. You'll never hear one laughing though because it is inaudible to the human ear. An adult rat can squeeze into your home through a hole as small as the size of a quarter.
They can live for up to 18 months, but most die before they are one year old. According to the Guinness Book of World Records the longest lived domestic rat died at seven years and four months of age.
Rats have strong teeth that allow them to chew through glass, cinder block, wire, aluminum and lead. Their incisors continuously grow throughout their life. Their teeth can grow up to 5 inches per year so they have to chew on things to wear them down.
Rats do not have the ability to vomit which is they way some rat poisons work. It makes them puke, but since they can't, the choke to death.
For some people rats make good pets. They are a very clean, spending several hours a day grooming them and they are highly intelligent, affectionate, loving and very loyal and they are very trainable.
A rat's hairless tail can be used to regulate their body temperature. Rats don’t sweat nor do they pant to relieve the heat like a dog. Rather, rats control their body temperature by expanding and contracting the blood vessels in their tails. Their tails are also used to provide balance and to communicate with each other. They have scent glands on the bottom of their feet that mark territories and help them retrace their footsteps.
Ancient Romans considered rats to be a sign of good luck and ancient Egyptians and Mayans worshiped rats. A temple dedicated to Hindu goddess Karni Mata in northwest India is home to more than 15,000 rats. They are worshiped and protected, and human devotees of the temple believe that when they die, they will be reincarnated as rats.
Rats are prolific breeders. A female can reproduce every three weeks or so. And when she gives birth, the litter typically contains six to 10 pups. These pups become sexually mature when they’re three to four months old and can begin spawning their own broods.
Rats can swim extremely well. Some types of rats can tread water for up to three days and hold their breath for three minutes and some species can swim over a mile. Stories about rats popping up in toilets is no urban legend because they can easily make their way up sewer pipes.
The types of rats most people are used to seeing are small compared to some of their more massive rodent relatives. The Sumatran bamboo rat, for example, can weigh up to 8.8 pounds and measure 20 inches in total length. That’s the size of a small housecat. While not as heavy at 3 pounds, the Gambian pouched rat can measure as long as 3 feet from nose to tail.
One of the most well-known facts about rats is that they can carry germs that spread diseases that can affect humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rats and mice can spread over 35 diseases.
And, if you have read this blog you'd know that rats are considered by some people to be delicious. See my post Rat Meat.