Rodents Rock: 20 Radical Facts About Rats

(Above: bred and trained bomb-and-mine-sniffing giant African rats)

When you think of rats, what comes to mind? The fabled giant rats of New York City sewers? The lovable (if improbable) chef of Ratatouille? There are actually many types of rats: kangaroo rats, Norway rats, cotton rats, pack rats, wood rats, greater stick-nest rats, roof rats, naked mole rats and other species like the terrifyingly huge Mallomys rat. Rats have been instrumental in helping researchers to develop medical cures, and despite the fact that they are not considered as cute and cuddly as hamsters and gerbils, rats are affectionate, intelligent, friendly creatures. Read on to learn all about the amazing animal that is the rat.

Rat 101

(Image via NYT)

Rats are omnivores (and not very picky ones). They have terrible vision, and they’re colorblind, so they rely on their fine sense of smell and whiskers for touch. They have some very talented teeth: rats can chew through wood, metal, even concrete (if uncured). They’re also highly social, enjoying play and cuddling with other rats. They develop deep bonds with their rat pack, and if a member of the group becomes sick they will care for it. A lonely rat is an unhealthy rat – it will quickly develop anxiety and depression.

Unusual Rat Facts

(Image via vatanappally)

Rats enjoy chocolate – unlike dogs, it won’t hurt them. Rats love games and are highly curious – as curious as cats. Rats adore snuggling up in your lap while you watch a movie or read a book. Rats don’t have thumbs or canine teeth – and while they can chow down on a Hershey bar, if they get close to cedar or pine oil they can become very ill. Rats will “date” a mate and get it on before you even know what’s happening; from meetup to hookup to breakup lasts two seconds. A rat can go longer than a camel without water and fall 15 meters without being injured. In American culture a rat is associated with dishonesty and cunning, but in other cultures, particularly Asian culture, rats are viewed with favorable characteristics like honesty, hard work, intelligence and good luck. They’re not considered dirty or undesirable at all. And actually, rats are very clean. They are even an important part of Eastern spirituality – the Year of the Rat is the first year of the Chinese zodiac.

Rats in History

(Images via dpchallenge and

The rats of New York are infamous – foot-long rodents living in trees, attacking people, taking up residence in the rubble of 9/11, popping up out of toilets. And rats are associated with the spread of the Bubonic Plague in medieval Europe, a disaster that claimed 1/3 of the population. Yet rats also have changed the course of history for the better. Rats exposed the squalor of Chinatown in San Francisco; rats drove rent strikes in the 1960s. Their amazing memories, rapid learning ability, curiosity, hardiness and friendliness make them ideal for research and service to humans (Learn more about amazing rat stories). Rats can sniff out landmines and bombs and identify tuberculosis; they can be used in search and rescue. Unfortunately for rats, they’re also very tasty. Pets, medicine, helpers, and yes – dinner.

Top image: alase