15 Facts About Rats You Didn’t Know

1. Rats have a good memory

As reported in the Science Daily, rats have better memory than we previously thought. They can remember “more than 30 events in context”. That makes rats better than most husbands.

2. Rats are social animals

Rats will get depressed if they’re alone. They need the company of other rats to prevent getting lonely. The RSPCA (UK) says, “Rats are social creatures and need the company of other rats. They use their sense of smell to recognise others, finding out about where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing.” I had a friend who did research with rats. He found they were much more relaxed when he played music.

3. Rats are very suspicious

You probably suspected this already. They have a highly developed survival instinct. With little in the way of defences, they avoid confrontation and danger where possible. 

4. Rats are very clean and really hate getting dirty

The expression, “you dirty rat”, is a bit like the expression about sweating like a pig. Pigs don’t sweat and rats don’t like being dirty. Rats can spread disease and leave fecal matter everywhere. But a recent study found that rats didn’t spread the Black Death. It seems that this disease, which killed an amazing 25 million people in Europe, was spread by lice. The old theory, that rats carried fleas which in turn infected humans, has been ruled out. It would have spread more slowly had there been a human to flea to rat to flea to human cycle. The more direct human to lice to human cycle explains the faster rate of transmission. Rats will also groom themselves several times a day, like cats. Which makes them more fastidious than dogs.

5. Rats can go longer than a camel without having a drink of water

This one is a bit of a clicky-bait type headline. It’s true…but also deceiving. Most rats can’t live longer than camels without water. However, there is one particular type of rat that can. It’s the kangaroo rat. This rat doesn’t live in Australia, like you may have guessed. It lives in northern Africa. It has developed to live in desserts, which means that like camels it can live a long time without water

6. Rats’ tails help them to balance, communicate and regulate their body temperature

Rats are covered in fur, which means they don’t sweat. Their naked tails are therefore used to help them regulate temperature. They can direct different amounts of their cardiac output to their tails, allowing them to regulate how much cooling they get.

7. Rats can fit in amazingly small spaces

Rats can fit through very small holes, as the video below shows. It’s deceptive to watch a rat do this. It looks like they must have some special ability to dislocate their hips or something. The truth is less incredible than that. Rats can fit their body through just about any hole they can get their heads through. That’s true for cats as well. While it looks like they’ve got big bodies, they’re actually scrawny little animals with a lot of hair.

8. They’re big chewers

This is one of the reasons you don’t want rats around your home. Rats will chew through just about anything. They’ll chew through plastic bins to get to dog food. They’ll chew through timber. And they’ll sometimes chew through electrical wiring. 

9. They don’t really sweat

As we said earlier, rats are covered in fur. Animals with fur don’t tend to sweat. Without naked skin for air to pass over, the effect of sweating is nil. Humans evolved to sweat to help regulate temperature and we use clothing to cover up when cold. Rats don’t have the ability to change furs, so they don’t sweat.

10. Rats only have four fingers on each front paw, and lack opposable thumbs

It’s very uncommon for any animal to have opposable thumbs. The purpose of the thumb is to hold things with dexterity. Without the intelligence to use this dexterity, most animals have no need for opposable thumbs. Some primates have small thumbs and can use tools in a limited sense. Those that swing through trees do so by forming a hook-like claw and have smaller thumbs to keep them out of the way when swinging. Rats have neither the intelligence nor the adaptive need to grow opposable thumbs. They have four claw-like fingers that suit their needs rather nicely.

11. When rats bite, they mean business
Rats avoid confrontation and will usually only bite to defend themselves. The important thing to know about rat bite is that it can carry disease. Make sure you have your tetanus shots up to date if you get bitten. Most of the diseases of rats (and mice) are from contact with urine and faeces. These include typhus, lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection and gastrointestinal infections. (Source, Healthline Direct.) That’s why rat control is so important around the home. You should also be aware of rat bit fever.
12. Rats cannot control their bladder

Rats and mice are incontinent. That’s what makes them so terrible to have around your home. As just mentioned above, that rat urine and faeces can carry diseases.

13. A rat’s sense of smell is incredible – and it saves lives

Magawa the landmine-sniffing rat was mourned when he passed away. It had been instrumental in clearing 141,000 square metres of land from landmines in Cambodia. That undoubtedly saved lives.

14. Rats have been implicated in the spread of some 40 diseases, including the bubonic plague, typhus, and leptospirosis

As explained earlier, rats may not have been responsible for the Black Death. That doesn’t mean they’re not carrying all sorts of nasties with them. Some people even theorize that the next pandemic will come from rats. There is some evidence to suggest they carry zoonotic diseases (diseases that can transfer from the host animal to humans like bird flu has many times in the last 30 years). Though, to be fair, there is evidence against that notion. Regardless of whether rats will cause the next pandemic, they’re definitely carrying lots of pathogens we should avoid. Eg we mentioned earlier typhus, lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection and gastrointestinal infections.

15. The Bosavi woolly rat

The Bosavi woolly rat is believed to be the biggest rat and is more than 32 inches (81 cm) long (including the tail) and weighs more than three pounds (1.36 kg).

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