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Rat

Rats
Fossil range: Early Pleistocene – Recent
The common Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Superfamily: Muroidea
Family: Muridae
Subfamily: Murinae
Genus: Rattus
Fischer de Waldheim, 1803
Species

64 species

Synonyms

Stenomys Thomas, 1910

Rats are various medium-sized, long-tailed rodents of the superfamily Muroidea. "True rats" are members of the genus Rattus, the most important of which to humans are the black rat, Rattus rattus, and the brown rat, Rattus norvegicus. Many members of other rodent genera and families are also referred to as rats, and share many characteristics with true rats.

Rats are typically distinguished from mice by their size; rats are generally large muroid rodents, while mice are generally small muroid rodents. The muroid family is very large and complex, and the common terms rat and mouse are not taxonomically specific. Generally, when someone discovers a large muroid, its common name includes the term rat, while if it is small, the name includes the term mouse. Scientifically, the terms are not confined to members of the Rattus and Mus genera, for example the pack rat and cotton mouse.

Contents

Species and description

The best-known rat species are the Black Rat (Rattus rattus) and the Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus). The group is generally known as the Old World rats or true rats, and originated in Asia. Rats are bigger than most Old World mice, which are their relatives, but seldom weigh over 500 grams (1 lb) in the wild.

The term "rat" is also used in the names of other small mammals which are not true rats. Examples include the North American pack rats, a number of species loosely called kangaroo rats, and others. Rats such as the Bandicoot rat (Bandicota bengalensis) are murine rodents related to true rats, but are not members of the genus Rattus. Male rats are called bucks, unmated females are called does, pregnant or parent females are called dams, and infants are called kittens or pups. A group of rats is either referred to as a pack or a mischief.

In some developed countries, many people keep domesticated rats as pets. These are of the species R. norvegicus, which originated in the grasslands of China and spread to Europe and eventually, in 1775, to the New World. Pet rats are Brown Rats descended from those bred for research, and are often called "fancy rats", but are the same species as the common city "sewer" rat. Domesticated rats tend to be both more docile than their wild ancestors and more disease prone, presumably due to inbreeding.

The common species are opportunistic survivors and often live with and near humans, therefore they are known as commensals. They may cause substantial food losses, especially in developing countries[1]. However, the widely distributed and problematic commensal species of rats are a minority in this diverse genus. Many species of rats are island endemics and some have become endangered due to habitat loss or competition with the Brown, Black or Polynesian rat.

Wild rats can carry many different zoonotic pathogens, such as e.g. Leptospira, Toxoplasma gondii and Campylobacter, and may transfer these across species, for example to humans[2]. The Black Death is traditionally believed to have been caused by the micro-organism Yersinia pestis, carried by the Tropical Rat Flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) which preyed on Black Rat living in European cities during the epidemic outbreaks of the Middle Ages; these rats were used as transport hosts. Today, this cycle still exists in many countries of the world and plague outbreaks still occur every year. Beside transmitting zoonotic pathogens, rats are also linked to the spread of contagious animal pathogens that may result in livestock diseases such as Classical swine fever and Foot-and-mouth disease.

The normal lifespan of rats ranges from two to five years, and is typically three years.

As pets

A domesticated rat

Specially bred rats have been kept as pets at least since the late 19th century. Pet rats are typically variants of the species Brown rat, but Black rats and Giant pouched rats are also known to be kept. Pet rats behave differently than their wild counterparts depending on how many generations they have been kept as pets.[3] Pet rats do not pose any more of a health risk than pets such as cats and dogs.[4] Tamed rats are generally friendly and can be taught to perform selected behaviors.

As subjects of scientific research

A laboratory rat strain known as a Zucker rat. These rats are bred to be genetically prone to diabetes, the same metabolic disorder found among humans.

In 1895, Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts (United States) established a population of domestic white brown rats to study the effects of diet and for other physiological studies. Over the years, rats have been used in many experimental studies, which have added to our understanding of genetics, diseases, the effects of drugs, and other topics that have provided a great benefit for the health and wellbeing of humankind. Laboratory rats have also proved valuable in psychological studies of learning and other mental processes (Barnett, 2002), as well as to understand group behavior and overcrowding (with the work of John B. Calhoun on behavioral sink). A 2007 study found rats to possess metacognition, a mental ability previously only documented in humans and some primates.[5][6]

Domestic rats differ from wild rats in many ways. They are calmer and less likely to bite; they can tolerate greater crowding; they breed earlier and produce more offspring; and their brains, livers, kidneys, adrenal glands, and hearts are smaller (Barnett 2002).

Brown rats are often used as model organisms for scientific research. Since the publication of the Rat Genome Sequence [7], and other advances such as the creation of a rat SNP chip, and the production of knockout rats, the laboratory rat has become a useful genetic tool, although not as popular as mice. When it comes to conducting tests related to intelligence, learning, and drug abuse, rats are a popular choice due to their high intelligence, ingenuity, aggressiveness, and adaptability. Their psychology, in many ways, seems to be similar to humans. Entirely new breeds or "lines" of brown rats like the Wistar rat have been bred for use in laboratories. Much of the genome of Rattus norvegicus has been sequenced.[8]

As food

Rats are edible by humans and are sometimes captured and eaten in emergency situations. For some cultures, rats are considered a staple. Bandicoot rats are an important food source among some peoples in Southeast Asia. Reasons why rat meat is not more widely eaten include the strong proscription against it in Halal and Kashrut tradition, and the fact that eating rat is not socially accepted in many cultures.

Another argument against eating rat is the risk of Weil's disease: the British SAS's rule book lists rat as the only meat which its members in action are not allowed to eat.

As a food, rats are often a more-readily available source of protein than other fauna. Some African slaves in the American South hunted wood rats (among other animals) to supplement their food rations.[9] The Aborigines along the coast in Southern Queensland, Australia regularly included rats in their diet.[10] In the Mishmi culture of India, rats are essential to the Mishmi traditional diet, as Mishmi women may eat no meat except fish, pork, wild birds and rats.[11] The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that rat meat makes up half the locally produced meat consumed in Ghana, where cane rats are farmed and hunted for their meat.

Ricefield rats have been traditionally used as food in rice-producing regions, like in Valencia, where along with the eel and local beans known as "garrafons" the rata de marjal was one of the main ingredients of the original paella (later replaced by rabbit, chicken and seafood).[12] The rat-eating habits of the people of the rice growing region of Valencia were immortalized by Vicente Blasco IbΓ¡Γ±ez in his novel CaΓ±as y barro.

Ricefield rats (Rattus argentiventer) are also consumed in the Philippines and the Isaan region of Thailand, as well as Cambodia, particularly when meat prices have been inflated. In late 2008, Reuters reported that the price of rat meat had quadrupled in Cambodia creating a hardship for the poor who could no longer afford it. Cambodia also exports about a metric ton of rats daily to Vietnam as food.[13]

In some cultures, rats are or have been limited as an acceptable form of food to a particular social or economic class. The Musahar community in north India commercialised rat farming as an exotic delicacy.[14] In the traditional cultures of the Hawaiians and the Polynesians, rat was a common food. When feasting, the Polynesian people of Rapa Nui could eat rat, but the king was not allowed to due to the islanders' belief in a "state of sacredness" called tapu.[15] In studying pre-contact archaeological sites in Hawaii, archaeologists have found that the concentration of the remains of rats associated with commoner households counted for three times the animal remains associated with elite households. The rat bones found in all sites are fragmented, burned and covered in carbonized material, indicating that rats were eaten as food. The greater occurrence of rat remains associated with commoner households may indicate that the elites of pre-contact Hawaii did not consume them as a matter of status or taste.[16]

The taboo against consuming rats as food is not unique to the world's major religions or Western cultures. Both the Shipibo people of Peru and SirionΓ³ people of Bolivia have cultural taboos against the eating of rats.[17][18]

Rats are a common food item for snakes, both in the wild, and as pets. Captive-bred ball pythons in particular, are fed a diet of mostly rats. Rats, as food items, are available from many suppliers who supply to individual snake owners as well as to large reptile zoos. In Britain the government in 2007 ruled out the feeding of any live mammal to another animal. The rule says the animal must be dead (frozen) then given to the animal to eat. The rule was put in to place mainly because of the pressure of the RSPCA and people who found it cruel.

In medicine

Rats can serve as zoonotic vectors for certain pathogens and thus cause disease, such as Lassa fever and Hantavirus. Rattus rattus, and the rat flea Xenopsylla cheopis, are notorious for their role in epidemics of bubonic plague[2].

In culture

Ancient Romans did not generally differentiate between rats and mice, instead referring to the former as Mus Maximus (big mouse) and the latter as Mus Minimus (little mouse).

On the Isle of Man (a dependency of the British Crown) there is a taboo against the word "rat." See Longtail (rat) for more information.

In Asian cultures

In Indian tradition rats are recognized as the vehicle of Lord Ganesh and a rat's statue is always found in a temple of Ganesh. In the northwestern Indian city of Deshnoke, the rats at the Karni Mata Temple are held to be destined for reincarnation as Sadhus (Hindu holy men). The attending priests feed milk and grain to the rats, of which the pilgrims also partake. Eating food that has been touched by rats is considered a blessing from god.

In Imperial Chinese culture, the rat (sometimes referred to as a mouse) is the first of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. People born in this year are expected to possess qualities associated with rats, including creativity, intelligence, honesty, generosity, ambition, a quick temper and wastefulness. People born in a year of the rat are said to get along well with "monkeys" and "dragons," and to get along poorly with "horses."

The indigenous rats are allowed to run freely throughout the Karni Mata temple.

In European cultures

European associations with the rat are generally negative. For instance, "Rats!" is used as a substitute for various vulgar interjections in the English language. These associations do not draw, per se, from any biological or behavioral trait of the rat, but possibly from the association of rats (and fleas) with the 14th-century medieval plague called the Black Death. Rats are seen as vicious, unclean, parasitic animals that steal food and spread disease. However some people in European cultures keep rats as pets and conversely find them to be tame, clean, intelligent, and playful.

Rats are often used in scientific experiments; animal rights activists allege that treatment of rats in this context is cruel. The term "lab rat" is used, typically in a self-effacing manner, to describe a person whose job function requires that they spend a majority of their work time engaged in bench-level research (i.e. a scientist or research assistant).

Rat in terminology

Rats are frequently blamed for damaging food supplies and other goods, or spreading disease. Their reputation has carried into common parlance: in the English language, rat is often an insult. Rat is generally used to signify an unscrupulous character. Writer/Director Preston Sturges created the humorous alias "Ratskywatsky" for a soldier who seduced, impregnated, and abandoned the heroine of his 1944 film, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. It is a term (noun and verb) in criminal slang for an informant - "to rat on someone" is to betray them by informing the authorities of a crime or misdeed they committed. Describing a person as "rat-like" usually implies he or she is unattractive and suspicious.

Among unions, "rat" is a term for non-union employers or breakers of union contracts, and this is why unions use inflatable rats. [1]

In religion

  • In Leviticus 11:29, rats are prohibited as food. (See 'as food' above.)

In fiction

Imperial Japan depicted as a rat in a WWII United States Navy propaganda poster

Depictions of rats in fiction are historically inaccurate and negative. The most common falsehood is the squeaking almost always heard in otherwise realistic portrayals (i.e. non-anthropomorphic). While the recordings may be of actual squeaking rats, the noise is uncommon - they may do so only if distressed, hurt, or annoyed. Normal vocalizations are very high-pitched, well outside the range of human hearing. Rats are also often cast in vicious and aggressive roles when in fact it is their shyness which helps keep them undiscovered for so long in an infested home.

The actual portrayals of rats vary from negative to positive with a majority in the negative and ambiguous.[19] The rat plays a villain in several mouse societies; from Brian Jacques's Redwall and Robin Jarvis's The Deptford Mice, to the roles of Disney's Professor Ratigan and Kate DiCamillo's Roscuro and Botticelli. They have often been used as a mechanism in horror; being the titular evil in stories like The Rats or H.P. Lovecraft's The Rats in the Walls [19] and in films like Willard and Ben. Another terrifying use of rats is as a method of torture, for instance in Room 101 in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four or The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe.

Selfish helpfulness —those willing to help for a price— has also been attributed to fictional rats.[19] Templeton, from E. B. White's Charlotte's Web, repeatedly reminds the other characters that he is only involved because it means more food for him, and the cellar-rat of John Masefield's The Midnight Folk requires bribery to be of any assistance.

Some fictional works use rats as the main characters. Notable examples include the society created by O'Brien's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Doctor Rat, Rizzo the Rat from The Muppets, and films like Ratatouille. Mon oncle d'AmΓ©rique ("My American Uncle"), a 1980 French film illustrates Henri Laborit's theories on evolutionary psychology and human behaviors by using short sequences in the storyline showing lab rat experiments.

The Pied Piper

One of the oldest and most historic stories about rats is The Pied Piper of Hamelin, in which a rat-catcher leads away an infestation with enchanted music—the piper is later refused payment, so he in turn leads away the town's children. This tale, placed in Germany around the late 13th century, has inspired the realms of film, theatre, literature, and even opera. The subject of much research, some theories have intertwined the tale with events related to the Black Plague, in which black rats may have played an important role. Fictional works based on the tale that focus heavily on the rat aspect include Pratchett's The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, and Belgian graphic novel Le Bal du Rat Mort (The Ball of the Dead Rat).

Taxonomy of Rattus

The genus Rattus is a member of the giant subfamily Murinae. There are several other murine genera that are sometimes considered part of Rattus: Lenothrix, Anonymomys, Sundamys, Kadarsanomys, Diplothrix, Margaretamys, Lenomys, Komodomys, Palawanomys, Bunomys, Nesoromys, Stenomys, Taeromys, Paruromys, Abditomys, Tryphomys, Limnomys, Tarsomys, Bullimus, Apomys, Millardia, Srilankamys, Niviventer, Maxomys, Leopoldamys, Berylmys, Mastomys, Myomys, Praomys, Hylomyscus, Heimyscus, Stochomys, Dephomys, and Aethomys.

The genus Rattus proper contains 64 extant species. A subgeneric breakdown of the species has been proposed, but does not include all species.

Species of rats

Genus Rattus - Typical rats

See also

Further reading

  • Barnett, S. Anthony (2002) The Story of Rats: Their Impact on Us, and Our Impact on Them, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, 202 pages, ISBN 1-86508-519-7 .
  • Hendrickson, R. (1983) More Cunning than Man: A Complete History of the Rat and its Role in Civilization, Kensington Books. ISBN 1-57566-393-7
  • Jahn, G. C., P. Cox, S. Mak, and N. Chhorn (1999) "Farmer participatory research on rat management in Cambodia", In G. Singleton, L. Hinds, H. Leirs and Zhibin Zhang [Eds.] Ecologically-based rodent management ACIAR, Canberra. Ch. 17, pp. 358–371. ISBN 1 86320 262 5
  • Leung LKP, Peter G. Cox, G. C. Jahn and Robert Nugent (2002) "Evaluating rodent management with Cambodian rice farmers", Cambodian Journal of Agriculture Vol. 5, pp. 21–26.
  • Matthews, I. (1898) 1st ed. Full Revelations of a Professional Rat-Catcher, after 25 Years’ Experience, Manchester: Friendly Societies Printing Co. ISBN 1-905124-64-3
  • Musser, G. G. and M. D. Carleton. 1993. "Family Muridae" in D. E. Wilson and D. M. Reeder eds. "Mammal Species of the World a Taxonomic and Geographic Reference", Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. pp. 501–755
  • Nowak, R. M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World Vol. 2. Johns Hopkins University Press, London.
  • Sullivan, Robert (2004) Rats: A Year with New Yorkâ΄s Most Unwanted Inhabitants, Granta Books, London.
  • Sullivan, Robert (2005) Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 1-58234-477-9

References and notes

  1. ^ Meerburg BG, Singleton GR, Leirs H (2009). "The Year of the Rat ends: time to fight hunger!". Pest Manag Sci 65 (4): 351. doi:10.1002/ps.1718. PMID 19206089. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/121686000/abstract. 
  2. ^ a b Meerburg BG, Singleton GR, Kijlstra A (2009). "Rodent-borne diseases and their risks for public health". Crit Rev Microbiol 35 (3): 221. doi:10.1080/10408410902989837. PMID 19548807. http://www.informahealthcare.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10408410902989837. 
  3. ^ "Wild Rats in Captivity and Domestic Rats in the Wild". http://www.ratbehavior.org/WildAndDomesticRats.htm. Retrieved 2009-07-04. 
  4. ^ "Merk Veterinary Manual Global Zoonoses Table". http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/htm/bc/tzns01.htm. Retrieved 2006-11-24. 
  5. ^ Foote, Allison L.; Jonathon D. Crystal (20 March 2007). "Metacognition in the Rat". Current Biology 17 (6): 551–555. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2007.01.061. PMID 17346969. PMC 1861845. http://www.current-biology.com/content/article/abstract?uid=PIIS0960982207009311. 
  6. ^ Rats Capable Of Reflecting On Mental Processes
  7. ^ Gibbs RA et al: Genome sequence of the Brown Norway rat yields insights into mammalian evolution.: Nature. 2004 Apr 1; 428(6982):475-6.
  8. ^ "Genome project". www.ensembl.org. http://www.ensembl.org/Rattus_norvegicus/index.html. Retrieved 17 February 2007. 
  9. ^ Otto, John Solomon; Augustus Marion Burns III. (December 1983) Black Folks, and Poor Buckras: Archeological Evidence of Slave and Overseer Living Conditions on an Antebellum Plantation. Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 14, No. 2. pp. 185-200
  10. ^ Hobson, Keith A.; Stephen Collier. (April 1984) Marine and Terrestrial Protein in Australian Aboriginal Diets. Current Anthropology, Vol. 25, No. 2. pp. 238-240
  11. ^ Mills, J. P. (January 1952) The Mishmis of the Lohit Valley, Assam. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 82, No. 1. pp. 1-12
  12. ^ Manuel VΓ¡zquez MontalbΓ¡n, La cocina de los mediterrΓ¡neos, Ediciones B - Mexico
  13. ^ Poor struggle as rat meat prices soar
  14. ^ Musahar Hindus commercialise rat farming
  15. ^ Leach, Helen. (February 2003) Did East Polynesians Have a Concept of Luxury Foods? World Archaeology, Vol. 34, No. 3, Luxury Foods. pp. 442-457.
  16. ^ Kirch, Patrick V.; Sharyn Jones O'Day. (February 2003) New Archaeological Insights into Food and Status: A Case Study from Pre-Contact Hawaii. World Archaeology, Vol. 34, No. 3. pp. 484-497
  17. ^ Behrens, Clifford A. (September 1986) Shipibo Food Categorization and Preference: Relationships between Indigenous and Western Dietary Concepts. American Anthropologist, Nathan New Series, Vol. 88, No. 3. pp. 647-658.
  18. ^ Priest, Perry N. (October 1966) Provision for the Aged among the SirionΓ³ Indians of Bolivia. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 68, No. 5. pp. 1245-1247
  19. ^ a b c Clute, John; John Grant (March 15, 1999). The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 642. ISBN 0312198698. 

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