When you think of rats, what comes to mind? The fabled giant rats of New York City sewers? The leader of the teenage mutant turtles Splinter? Your friends pet? What-ever it may be, there are many types of rats: kangaroo rats, Norway rats, cotton rats, pack rats, wood rats, greater stick-nest rats, roof rats, naked mole rats and even the giant Mallomys rat. These fur laden critters are instrumental in helping researchers 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. To learn some facts about the amazing animal that is the rat continue reading.
Rats are not very picky omnivores. They have poor vision, they’re colorblind, and they mostly rely on smell and whiskers to sense what is going on. They have some very strong teeth and can chew through wood, metal, even concrete. 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 uneasiness and depression.
Unlike dogs, rats enjoy chocolate, and it won’t hurt them. They love games and are as highly curious as cats. They even enjoy snuggling up on your lap while you watch a movie or read a book. While they chow down on Ritter and other types of chocolate bars, they do not have thumbs or canine teeth, and can be selective on what they eat. From mating to hook-up rats will find mates quickly, and more often than not, get there freak on before you even know what’s happening, in as little as 2 seconds. They can go with out water longer than a camel, and fall 40 feet without being injured. In North American culture a rat is associated with dishonesty and cunning, but in other cultures, particularly Asian, they are viewed with favorable characteristics like honesty, hard work, intelligence and good luck. They’re not considered dirty or undesirable and are actually very clean. The Year of the Rat is the first year of the Chinese zodiac they are even an important part of eastern spirituality.
The rats of New York are infamous, from foot-long critters living in Central Park tree´s, attacking people, taking up residence in the rubble of 9/11, and popping up out of toilets. They are associated with a disaster that claimed 1/3rd of the global population during the spread of the Bubonic Plague in medieval Europe. Yet they have changed the course of history for the better. They exposed the squalor of Chinatown in San Francisco, driving rent strikes in the 1960s and there amazing memory, rapid learning ability, curiosity, hardiness and friendliness make them ideal for research and service to humans. They can sniff out land-mines, bombs and identify tuberculosis; they can be used in search and rescue however unfortunately for them, they’re also very tasty. Pets, medicine, helpers, and yes – dinner.
Research in Science suggests that rats are capable of a human characteristic: empathy. The study below tested response when a fellow rats was trapped, and they found that not only do they spend time and energy deliberately helping the trapped companions, but they would even share food after rescuing them.
Using a small square arena, with a cage in the center; rats were trapped, and sometimes not. When another 2nd rat was released, it would either wandered around of let his fellow rat go (Traps release mechanism eventually picked up in the 12 day study).
The rats were noticeably agitated when one was trapped, and tended to circle the center, dig, and call to the trapped; when the cage was empty, these behaviors were absent. Over the course of the experiment, the rats learned to open the cage, and became much faster at doing so. A extremely higher percentage that were inside the arena, with a trapped rat, opened the cage (23 out of 30); compared to the rats that were in the arena with an empty cage (5 out of 40). Clearly, these annoying little furballs are excited to open a cage when a fellow companion is stuck inside.
.::Interesting Fact::. During the 12 trials, female rats were more likely to open the cage than males were (100% vs. 70%).
Researchers then upped the ante with another 2nd trap filled with chocolate chips, (rats really like chocolate). Rats were as likely to open the cage with there companion, as they were to open the cage with the chocolate, suggesting that the motivation to free a trapped companion is about as strong as the motivation to eat the chocolate. Additionally, in more than half of the trials, the free rats shared the chocolate with the trapped rat after freeing it. The free rats actually ate fewer chocolate chips when there was another rat in the arena than they did when they were alone, indicating a willingness to share the bounty.
.::Interesting Fact::.We don’t know whether rats were trying to alleviate other rats distress, or to make themselves feel better about the whole situation…