Wild rats are hated and worshiped at the same time. These are mostly misunderstood animals. Here are some interesting facts about this rodent species.
Heard of rats sniffing landmines?
Similar in appearance to the Norway rat is the Gambian pouched rat that can grow up to 15 lb. That's about the size of an average house cat! In Africa, it is used to detect landmines due to its intelligent and flexible nature. It moves over the landmines without detonating them.
Wild rats are of two types: the roof rat or black rat (Rattus rattus) and the brown or Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus), of the Rattus genus. They belong to the order Rodentia and are members of the Muridae family. These species are also known as the 'Old World rats'. They are believed to have originated in Asia and reached other parts of the world, mostly on board ships.
One would mostly associate with Norway rats, they being the most common among others and likely to have originated in China. Norway rats populate cities like New York and London, and have spread through every nook and corner of the world with the rare exceptions of Arctic and Antarctic areas, Alberta in Canada, and a few places in New Zealand.
In India, these mammals are considered to be the vehicle of Lord Ganesha. As one travels to the northwestern Indian city of Deshnoke, one will find more than 20,000 rats at the Karni Mata Temple. They are destined to be reincarnated as Sadhus (Holy Hindu men). At this temple, it is believed that eating food that has been touched by rats is a blessing.
• Both the species of wild rats are not more than 15 to 16 inches in length.
• Norway rats are brown or gray in color, whereas roof rats are black in color.
• They have pointed noses and hairless feet.
• The tail is tapering, narrow, and scaly. The tail of the Norway rats is shorter than their body length, while that of roof rats is longer.
• Rats are generally not very big in size. On an average, males weigh between 500 to 550 gm, and females weigh between 300 to 335 gm, which is less than 1 pound.
• They appear large because when they are cornered, they fluff up their fur and chatter their teeth out of fear and intimidation, to scare away the predator. They are excellent swimmers, climbers (both vertically and horizontally), and jumpers.
• Even if they happen to fall from a height of 50 feet, they remain unhurt.
• Rats are omnivorous animals. Their diet consists fruits, seeds, cereals, nuts, grains, insects, worms, frogs, birds and smaller animals that they catch, reptiles, dead animals, and sometimes even other rats.
• Apart from eating the food that they come across, they also kill small animals and insects.
• City-dwelling rats scavenge food from garbage bins, landfills, and from any other places where scraps are available.
• They also need water to drink.
• Rats are typically food hoarders. They store more food than they need to eat and usually keep it near their dwellings.
• They try out different kinds of foods using a method called 'sampling', wherein they try small quantities of the new food to see if it suits their stomach.
• Brown rats that live in cities love to eat macaroni and cheese, scrambled eggs, and corn that is cooked. These are their favorite foods.
• Rats love to live near garbage cans, in the sewers, in grasses that are tall and dense, under piles of wood that is mostly undisturbed, abandoned furniture, and any holes that are present in buildings.
• If they enter a house, they usually inhabit the walls or ceilings, insides of cupboards, behind heavy furniture, in attics, and also in basements.
• Rats can breed after 9 to 12 weeks from birth.
• The females have heat cycles every 4 to 5 days. The heat begins in the evening and lasts through the night.
• A female rat can produce up to 13 litters in a year. The gestation period lasts for 21 to 24 days.
• The number of baby rats in the litter can vary between 7 to 10.
• Females reach menopause at 18 months of age, after which their litter size gradually decreases. The reproduction cycle decreases when the weather is very hot or very cold.
• Rats usually live in groups, with a large, dominating male protecting a group of females and not allowing any other male to mate with them, guarding them aggressively if necessary.
Lifespan and Predators
• Rats generally live for three years, but in the wild, most do not make it past the first year. On an average, their life expectancy is less than a year.
• Wild rats have a mortality rate of 95%. The main reason for this is predators like owls, hawks, weasels, snakes, dogs, and cats. They also die due to rat traps, rat poison, and becoming roadkill.
Relationship with Humans
• Wild rats are able to burrow, climb, jump, and gnaw. This ability along with the highly sophisticated senses that they possess helps them gain access to a variety of places.
• Their gnawing ability can cause damage to buildings, wiring systems, and pipe work.
• They also carry diseases like Weil's disease, toxoplasmosis, rat bite fever, and Q fever. They do not carry plague in them, as this will cause their death as well. Plague is caused due to fleas. It is extremely rare to contract rabies from a rat bite.
You can find out if there is a rat infestation on your property by keeping a lookout for signs such as burrows or trails in the garden, gnawing marks on furniture, wires, doors, or pipes, droppings, marks on the walls where their fur dirt or body oils are rubbed off, or any squeaking noises.
Getting Rid of Them
• To get rid of them from your home, you will need to eliminate their food source. Store all your food away, where they cannot reach it. Pack it up nicely; do not leave it out in the open.
• Clean your house with bleach to kill all the bacteria.
• Seal off any opening from where they may be accessing your house.
• There are many options of trapping rats, but the humane traps are better because they will not kill them. Remember, the rats are in your house because they found a safe and secure environment to dwell in, and found food and water for their survival, which is the basic instinct of any living being. However, if you do prefer killing them, then you can use rat traps or rat poison.
• While cleaning your home, once you find an infestation, always wear gloves, full-sleeved shirts and full pants, boots, and cover your nose and mouth.
• Never forget to wash your hands after cleaning or touching anything at the infestation sight.
• Also, be careful if you have any recent wounds. It is never wrong to take utmost precaution so as not to fall ill.
• If you encounter a rat, never ever corner it. As is instinctual in all wild animals, it may scratch or bite if it feels threatened by you. It is as scared of you as you are of it, possibly more.
Things You May Not Know About Rats
• Rats have belly buttons.
• They don't sweat.
• They can survive after being flushed down the toilet.
• They eat their own feces for nutrition.
• Their teeth grow at the rate of 5 to 6 inches a year.
• The oldest living rat to be recorded in the Guinness Book of Records was 7 years and 4 months old.