Only a handful of creatures inspire more dread and fear than rats. When they think of rats, most people conjure images of creepy, filthy five-pound, red-eyed creatures that lurk in the dark and feast on human flesh. And while some of the negativity and bad reputation surrounding rats is undeserved – they are, after all, one of the smartest animals on earth and an essential component in scientific research – they are purveyors of disease and one of the most horrifying house pests. Here are five good reasons to be scared of rats, if you aren’t already.
Cat urine regularly acts as a repellent for rodents, who are naturally fearful of felines and keen to keep their distance. However, rats exposed to the urine of cats infected with toxoplasma gondii may suffer a change in their brain chemistry that paralyses brain regions governing fear and activates those regions involved in sexual attraction. In other words, rats turn into zombies and are manipulated into losing their fear of cats. People also can contact toxoplasmosis: studies show that 1 in 3 people test positive for this parasite, particularly due to consuming undercooked meat or after being exposed to cat litter. Pregnant women are most sensitive to infection.
(And to complete the zombie image, rats also have a real and powerful craving for human blood, which they obtain by biting primarily the face and hands of sleeping people.)
The fact that rats are included in the list of 100 of the worst invasive species is not purely due to chance. Rats are able to adapt to different environments with little difficulty and are incredibly resilient to harsh conditions. They can:
Rats have such a reproductive system in which one female can mate with multiple males, particularly at higher population densities. When a female rat becomes sexually receptive – a state experienced about 15 times annually – she can mate with various males in a short period and produce up to 6 litters per year, each of 7-15 pups. Considering that rats can reach sexual maturity at 5 weeks of age, a pair of rats can produce hundreds, if not thousands, of rats per year, if breeding is left unchecked. Fortunately, whether in urban settings or in the wild, rats have a very high mortality rate, keeping their species under control.
For those who are afraid of rats, the Gambian pouched rat is their worst nightmare come true. Native to central Africa, the nocturnal creature is about the size of an average house cat, growing up to about 0.9 meters (including the tail) and weighing up to 9 pounds. They are omnivorous, their diet consisting primarily of vegetables, insects, snails, crabs, and palm fruit, and live in colonies of up to 20 in forests and termite mounds. O humans, the Gambian pouched rat is dangerous and even deadly: there have been several cases of deadly attacks on human babies in South Africa, and in the Florida Keys, from where they are now banned, they have been linked with a monkey pox outbreak in 2003.
Rats are considered to be the first invasive species inadvertently spread by humans. Originating in tropical Asia, rats had invaded Europe by the first century A.D. and managed to spread across the world by hitching rides on ships and vessels. They are highly adaptable and can thrive in almost any region of the world, but once they settle, it’s almost impossible to get them out. Their small size allows them to fit through tiny openings, while their hard teeth (tougher than iron and steel) permit them to gnaw through cinderblock, wood, and any other building materials. They are also very clever and ‘trap-shy,’ making it very difficult for homeowners to get rid of them completely.
If you weren’t already horrified by rats, these five reasons will at least convince you that rats are not to be taken lightly – especially when they invade your home in the hundreds. Call your local pest control company to make sure you don’t have disease-spreading little vampires living inside your walls.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.