Monday, July 18, 2011

The Rat's Hands are Clean

Rats have a dirty reputation.  It turns out, compared with other critters, rats rank high in the cleanliness department.  Rats clean themselves frequently with their tongues, much the way cats do.  But they have something cats don't have:  hands.  Rats lick their hands and rub behind their ears.  They wash their hands before and after meals.

Clean, though they may be, they are wild animals that aren't always a joy to behold.  Now and then you may see a rat in your backyard.  Some hysterical folks are against wild bird feeders because rats eat seeds, too.  Personally, I don't discriminate at my bird feeder.  Still, there is no denying that the rat is not my target customer.

Rats are rodents (Order: Rodentia).  Some other familar rodents:  squirrels, mice, beavers, guinea pigs and gophers.

Some Rat Facts
-a rat can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter
-front teeth grow throughout life
-gestation:  22 days
-average litter size: 11
-rat pups are self sufficient at 4 weeks of age
-mom ready for first litter at 3 months of age
-vision best suited for the dark
-a rat can leap 2 feet, straight up (3 feet with a running start)

Rats have whiskers similar to cats, that serve as feelers, especially handy for navigating in narrow passages.  Rats have keen hearing and are pretty fast runners.  The long naked tail is used for balance when the rat stands on his hind legs.

It is tougher to kill a rat than it is to kill a mouse.  This is true, not because the rat is bigger and tougher but because the rat is cautious.  A rat will carefully examine a trap before taking food from it.  One rat notes the smell on another rat's breath.  Should a rat become ill or die, it is thought that the other rats remember that smell and avoid it. That's why it's harder to poison rats than other rodents. 

Rats live in colonies and sleep huddled together.  Typically, colonies contain multiple burrows connected by tunnels.  Dwellings for rats may be anywhere from a hole in the ground to inside the wall on the fortieth floor of a high rise building.  An Alpha Rat is in charge.  All the males are responsible for protecting the colony.  In the case of an intruder, lots of swaggering and teeth clicking goes on, but rarely does a rat actually fight.  If fighting does occur, it is unlikely that anybody is injured.

The rat body is designed to run on seeds and grains.  Since their favored food source isn't always available, rats have evolved to eat other foods such as pizza, raw eggs, potato chips or cat food found in a bowl on somebody's back porch. 

And sometimes, rats visit the backyard bird feeder.

for more on rats:
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Rats by Richard Conniff
Rodents of the World by David Alderton

for something differant/for those who like rats as pets:
Animals and the Afterlife by Kim Sheridan


  1. Very interesting! Always thought rats ate dead bodies. Well, in horror flicks they do.

  2. Awww, look at those eyes, so dark and scheming of ways to relieve us of our leftover pizza....

  3. Yuck. Very informative post. Eleven babies every 22 days sounds haunting. Yikes, Yikes and Yikes.

  4. Actually, I've always thought rats are cute....