Rats The little man's dogsAt first glance, they really aren't beauties, the fat rats with their long hairless tails that hang out in dark corners. But instead of an "ew" they could also give you an "Oooh" in the future elicit.
Rats are also called the “dogs of the little man”. They can easily keep up with guinea pigs and golden hamsters.
Karin Lauscher breeds rats – in 15. Floor of a high-rise building in Potsdam. There the animals live in cage systems. Are allowed to explore the apartment once a day. They are not housebroken, but they bring their own aroma: It is described as “nutty” in a book for pet rat owners. Karin Lauscher does not mind the smell. For them, rats are not disgusting, but clever cuddly animals.
“Rats are animals that can establish an intimate friendship with the caretaker. If the rats have given you their heart, then it really belongs to you for the rest of your life.”
From the Norway rat to the pet
– Order: rodents – Suborder: mice relatives – Family: long-tailed mice – Genus: rats – Species: house rat, Norway rat, laboratory rat, pet rat
Rats belong to the rodents. There are more than sixty species of rats worldwide, most of them in Southeast Asia, New Guinea and Australia. The animals that are kept as pets in our country are so-called colored rats. They are descended from laboratory rats. The again from the traveling rat. Norway rats are gray-brown, weigh up to a pound and are about thirty inches long, with a tail almost as long. Above and below the omnivore with preference for meaty food possesses two imposing nail teeth each. A Norway rat usually gives birth to eight or nine young in a litter, but there can be as many as twenty. The little ones weigh five to seven grams, are naked and blind. At 22 days they leave the nest, after two to three months they are sexually mature again themselves.
Our secret neighbors: Norway rats
In the meantime, you can see Norway rats running more often than domestic rats.
Norway rats are more widespread in Germany than domestic rats. House rats are smaller and darker. Their snout is more pointed. They prefer a vegetarian diet. Mostly they live in attics, gladly in the countryside. In recent decades, however, they have been largely displaced. More and more old buildings are being renovated, roofs extended and insulated. The changed way of keeping food and the silos in agriculture make it difficult for the house rats to find food. Norway rats, on the other hand, are our secret neighbors in the cities. It is estimated that there are as many Norway rats in big cities as there are people: in the sewer systems under houses and streets, in basements of old buildings, near garbage cans, in old factories and warehouses. They hide themselves cleverly. Adapt to their two-legged neighbors.
“Disgusting animals would actually only be the sewer rats. And there is the fact that it probably disgusts us that the rats run around in the feces of humans and probably also feed on it.”
Rainer Hutterer, rat expert at the Bonn Zoological Museum
The rat – from food thief to disgusting animal
Not at all rat-sharp swear words and phrases are many:
– cowardly, sneaky, mean, stinking, old rat – in Bavarian there is talk of the “Ratz” and “verratzt” – land rat – rat pack – someone looks like a rat – rats leave the sinking ship first – a rat's tail of problems – a rat hole as a bad dwelling place
Rats were made into disgusting animals in a long cultural tradition. They serve as obnoxious extras or even as attackers themselves in movies and make their appearance in literature. A real basis of the so transported disgust of rats is that rats compete with us for food and can carry pathogens in them. “Rats can definitely cause a lot of damage, especially in storage, grain elevators and other agricultural operations. Feces and urine make the grain unusable. They eat a lot of food and build their nests in it,” says Rainer Hutterer, a rat expert at the Zoological Museum in Bonn, Germany. Actual mischief brought rats in former times: the plague. They were infected by the plague flea and brought the fleas among the people, who then in turn infected each other.
Traps and poison do not bother rats much
Traps and poison baits kill at best one rat. The other animals learn from this.
Rat traps are not only of little help, they only make the rats stronger: the animals that are not killed by the traps right away warn the others. If a rat eats poison, the dying rodent scares off the others by marking the bait with feces and urine. But Rainer Hutterer knows of other cases as well: “There are areas in northwestern Germany where Norway rats have become insensitive to rodenticides, so that rat poison is no longer effective. And you have to think of it as selecting the animals that survive. This increases the percentage of animals that are genetically immune to these rat poisons. Thus, in a short time, you create rat populations that you can no longer control with poison.”Better precautions: Keep waste in safe places, don't throw food scraps in the household compost, keep pipes in order, and don't feed wild animals.
The rat – good enough as a laboratory rat
They reproduce quickly, are cheap to have and to keep. Rats are therefore often used for experiments.
The fact that rats cause disgust and repulsion lowers the ethical limits for experimenting with them. The fact that they also reproduce quickly and are inexpensive to keep makes them frequently used as laboratory animals: In Germany alone, an estimated half a million rats are “consumed” each year for medical experiments, as the experts call it. “There are over a hundred strains of laboratory rats that are bred for specific purposes. They are kept as inbred strains, so to speak, so that they always retain the same characteristics and appearance that are needed,” Rainer Hutterer explains. So-called cancer rats are used, for example, to test the carcinogenicity of certain substances.
Rats like to cuddle
Rats are often underestimated. They do not really deserve the label of disgust.
From the laboratory rats descend the color rats kept as pets, which are very susceptible to disease. They often die of tumors and respiratory diseases and are probably also less intelligent than wild Norway rats. But they still seek physical contact: “Actually, this is inherent in all rodents and ground-dwelling animals: They live in a tunnel system of narrow tunnels that they have dug. Since they have body contact everywhere and their hair also acts as tactile instruments, they can use it to scan their surroundings. In this respect, all these rodents that live in the ground have a certain tendency to make physical contact,” knows rat expert Rainer Hutterer.
Rats are small, clever, creative deities
In India, rats are even revered: in Deshnok, near the Pakistani border, there is the Hindu Karni Mata temple, where since as early as 14. The homage paid to rats in the twentieth century. In the meantime about 20.000 rodents are kept and fed because, according to belief, the souls of deceased children are reborn in the animals. In China, rats are regarded as creative, clever animals. In the astrology calendar there is even the year of the rat. In many countries, rats and other rodents are hunted because their meat is valued as tasty food. The image of the disgusting rat is gradually changing in Western culture. More and more “good” rats appear in children's books. In the meantime, funny, clever fellows are scurrying across the screen, who themselves are top cooks.
“They outdo every guinea pig, every rabbit and every golden hamster, because they are really intelligent”. Among rat lovers they also have the nickname “The little man's dog”.”
The rat – a social animal: The rat clan sticks together
“Tit for tat”: rats return the favor of helping their conspecifics very precisely, a study shows.
Rats are not only social animals, but can even remember the helpfulness of their conspecifics and return the favor to them at the next opportunity. Scientists led by Michael Taborsky of the Institute of Ecology have been able to. Evolution of the University of Bern in a study published in February 2021 in the journal “Scientific Reports” The results of a study that has just been published. Taborsky's researchers had a Norway rat caged with four other conspecifics for four days. The four wandering rats were able to pass oatmeal to the single rat by pulling on a stick.
Rats even remember the amount of help they receive
On the fifth day, the scientists turned the tables on the rat. Now the rat, which had previously received food from its conspecifics, was able to feed its “colleagues” provide them with food. Came out: The rat that could distribute the food gave back to each of its conspecifics exactly the amount of food it had previously received from them. According to the scientists, this shows that the rats studied have the gift, rare in the animal kingdom, of being able to accurately remember the extent of helpfulness of individual conspecifics, even when several animals are involved.