Rats are the world’s champion curriers of hatred, fear, and squealing disgust.
As rodent populations expand, urban legends run rampant. Mild American parents gift their kid a strange-looking pet dog that turns out to be an overgrown sewer rat. A student takes a midnight bathroom-break and a brown rodent takes a chunk out of his fleshy bottom.
It’s no wonder city-dwellers instantly shudder when they glimpse beady black eyes and lithe, wriggling bodies.
Getting To Know Thine Enemy
With a global population of up to five billion, rats are an unavoidable component of modern life, no matter how persistent our pest-control tactics.
The rodent breed most commonly found in cities and suburbs is the Norway rat. Compared to smaller rodents, Norway rats display more open aggression towards humans and other animals.
Rats are able to reproduce when they reach the age of 3 months. They give birth after only 20-odd days of pregnancy.
Despite the impressive birth rate, the population is kept in check by their limited lifespan. Rats live for only a year and a half at most, but most commonly reach their demise before the age of one.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Rats don’t just spread terror and disgust. They can chew through wires – presumably just for the hell of it – and start dangerous electrical fires. They transport parasites and transmit diseases. Rats contaminate supplies by gobbling up or urinating on accessible food supplies at will.
Rat attacks aren’t just the fodder of urban legends. Rodents have been known to fatally attack household pets, small children, and fully-grown adults.
NYC: Rat Paradise
Cities are ideal nesting grounds for Norway rats.
Garbage and poor hygiene enable rats to feast, multiply, and thrive. Improperly stored food, including city garbage, attracts hordes of the nimble scavengers.
To find shelter, rats readily squeeze through pipes, sewage drains and small structural gaps. Decaying city infrastructures literally open the door to rodent infestation.
Rat skills are well-honed for challenging city environments. They easily adapt to urban noise, developing an impressive tolerance for harsh repetitive sounds. Rats can collapse their frames and squeeze their bodies through openings less than an inch across.
You read that correctly – a twelve-inch fully-grown adult rat can force its way through a hole the size of a large button.
Sharp, fortified rodent teeth can chew through cinder and glass.
Rats have strong palettes and impressive memories. If they identify a poisonous substance, they’ll avoid it for the rest of their lives. In 2011, NY Magazine interviewed a rat exterminator, who claimed rats are ‘wise’ and ‘cynical’ and easily ponder their way out of lethal baits and rat traps.
The exterminator’s attitude towards his sworn enemies bordered on wonder, or even reverence. ‘I believe some of them can read,’ he said.
We clearly haven’t even begun to comprehend the smarts and skillset of these conniving, ephemeral pests. Despite our best efforts, rats are poised to remain our hated, feared, and ultimately inescapable global cohabiters.
Maybe the next time you glimpse a long, thick hairless tail, hold up a hand-lettered sign: ‘If you can read this, leave us alone.’