Tuesday, August 31, 2010


We have rats living right here in our neighborhood, and we can smell them because of our superior doggy sniffing abilities.  But we don't usually see the rats because they live in holes in the ground, and they only come out at night when we are all sleeping in Mom's bedroom.

The kind of rats we have here are called brown rats, which is a really boring name, but it pretty much describes them.  Sometimes they are called Norway rats, sewer rats, Hanover rats, or wharf rats.  The fancy scientific name for these rats is Rattus norvegicus, which means "Norway rat."  And the reason the rats got this name was because the scientist who gave them their name thought the rats had come to England on ships from Norway in 1728.  But he was wrong about this, because guess what, there weren't even any rats living in Norway yet in 1728.

So we're not sure where the rats really came from in the beginning, but probably it was from northern China and Mongolia.  But by the time people figured this out, they were used to blaming Norway for the rats, so they didn't bother to change the rats' name to China rat.

Nowadays, there are rats everywhere in the world except in Antarctica and in the Arctic, because it is mostly too cold for them to live there.  This map shows all the places in red where rats live, and Missouri is one of the red places, so that is why we have rats here.

The rat hole in Henry's yard

Our rats like to live in the sewer, which is a big pipe that runs through the ground under the street.  Rats are good swimmers, so they don't mind if the sewer is full of water.  A lot of the time, the rats just go in the sewer through the drains because that is less work than digging a tunnel.  But sometimes they dig a hole, and we can see these holes when we are out walking with Mom.  There's a rat hole in Henry's yard, and Henry's dad keeps filling it up, but then the rats dig the hole out again.

Down inside their burrow, the rats make a nest where they can have their babies.  and also they have escape tunnels in case they need to get out in a hurry.  Rats are very chummy, so they live in groups, where they sleep together and even groom each other.  They have a Greek alphabet system like dogs do, with an alpha rat, beta rat, and so on.  Also they like to live where there are people, the same as dogs do, because people are a good source of food.  Rats are very smart to figure this out.  So they live in places like garbage dumps and alleys and sewers.  The alpha rat gets to live closest to the food supply, and the omega rat lives farthest away from it, so sometimes the omega rat doesn't get enough to eat and then it dies.

Rats are very good at making baby rats.  The girl rats can mate when they are only 11 weeks old and weigh 4 ounces.  After the boy rat mates with her, he leaves her alone to raise the family all by herself, which seems very irresponsible, if you ask me.  So the girl rat makes a round nest out of sticks or straw, and then after about three weeks, she has between 6 and 11 babies.  When they are born, they are blind and they don't have any hair, so the mama rat has to take care of them for three weeks, and then they are mostly grown up and can go out on their own.

A female rat can have three to five litters in one year, which is a lot of baby rats.  Some rats live to be three years old, but 95% do not even make it to their first birthday.  This is because there are a ton of predators out there eating rats.  If a whole bunch of one group of rats dies, the ones that are left start making lots more babies to get the number in their group up again.

Rats like to sleep all day and then go out at night looking for food.  They mostly find food using their noses because they have a good sense of smell, but they don't see very well.  They will eat almost anything, but they especially like grains.  They will also eat meat, like for example, ducklings.  There was this scientist named Martin Schein who once studied what brown rats like to eat, and he said the three things they liked best were (1) scrambled eggs, (2) macaroni and cheese, and (3) cooked corn kernels.  And what they really hated to eat was raw beets, peaches, and raw celery.

Brown rats can carry a bunch of nasty-sounding diseases with names that are really hard to spell, so I am not going to tell you what they are.  Some people blame brown rats for the bubonic plague, but actually it is the fleas that bite black rats and some other rodents that made people get sick from the plague.  After there started being lots more brown rats than black rats, there stopped being so much plague.

I think that rats would be very yummy to eat, so if I ever catch one, I will eat it.  But what you shouldn't ever eat is RAT POISON because it can KILL YOU!  Or at least it can make you really, really sick.  And the way it does that is it makes you start bleeding inside, and then it takes a long time to die, and you feel really icky the whole time.  So if you ever find any rat poison, don't eat it!  And if you find a rat that died from rat poison, don't eat the rat, either!

Mom thinks that rats are cute, and I guess some other people do, too, because they started breeding them a long time ago to make them be more tame and have interesting markings and stuff like that.  These kinds of rats are called "fancy rats," and there are even shows where you can take your rat to win a ribbon, just like in a dog show.

I asked Mom if we could have some pet rats, but she said no.  I might have known she would say that.  She likes to look at the rats and hamsters and guinea pigs and mice in the pet store, but she thinks she already has too many animals to take care of.  In my opinion, she is totally wrong about this, but sometimes there is just no arguing with her.


  1. Awwww Piper, thank you for a very interesting story on rats. Our mom used to manager a pet store years ago, before us dogs, and they dealt mainly in parrots, but they also had some fancy rats....not the kind that could win ribbons though. When parents would come in looking for a hamster for their kids, mom would steer them to the rats, people don't like the tail's on rats. But mom had to explain that hamsters sleep all day and up and moving quite a bit at night and they bite. Rats you can play with all the time, and make better pets than hamsters. She sold lots of rats. When the store was closing, there was still some rats, and a man came in and bought them for his snakes. Mom doesn't like to think about that, and she felt really bad.

  2. Wow, that's cool that your mom got to sell fancy rats to people for pets. I think it is mostly the tails that people don't like, because the front part of a rat is very cute. And probably tastier to eat than the tail! When I was reading about rats on the internet, I found out that in some places it is against the law to feed live rats to pet snakes because this is cruel. I think it would be better to feed rats to dogs because dogs could just shake them and break their necks, and that would be a quick way to kill them instead of swallowing them slowly like a snake does.
    Your friend, Piper