More Common Than You Think
The most common mammals in the world are rodents. Within that group, the Norway rat is the most common rat found in the United States, although we more often refer to it as the brown rat. These little guys can be up to two pounds and 20 inches length in size. And if you have ever lived in a large American city, particularly some place like New York, chances are that you have run into one. Probably right before you let out a shocked gasp or high-pitched scream.
Or maybe you're inured to the alarming presence of rats in your apartment or house. After all, in New York City alone, there are an estimated 70 million rats scurrying about the place. That's about 9 rats for every single human resident! Plus, rats have infected and killed more people than the entire population of New York City in the last century: more than 10 million unlucky humans in that time period caught diseases like tularemia, leptospirosis, trichinosis, and the old standby the plague from rats. And that number is an improvement over the deaths caused by rats in the middle ages, when 25 million people died in Europe in just a six-year period in the 14th century from plague spread by rat.
They Love (To Bite) Children
You may think that spreading disease is the worst of it, but you'd be wrong. Rats can do a whole lot worse than that, and much of their ability to cause trouble for human populations comes down to just how resilient rats are, and how quickly they are able to breed. The gestation period for a rat is a mere three weeks, with litters of 8 to 10 baby rats. Not only that, but females are capable of becoming pregnant immediately after they themselves are born. Add all of these alarming facts up, and you shouldn't be surprised to find out that between them, a male and female rat can make in excess of 15,000 new rats each year.
And a rat nest is far from a family-friendly environment, so younger and less-dominant rats are frequently forced to flee. Much of that comes down to being bitten by other rats, most often on their rear ends. What can we say? Rats have teeth, and they want to use them...constantly. Rats' teeth has been compared to steel in terms of density, and can create more than 7,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. And rats need to keep using these teeth, since they grow up to five inches per year, and need to keep gnawing to prevent the teeth from growing right through the jaw.
Unfortunately, this also means that rats need to find other things to gnaw on and bite besides just other rats. And those things basically fall into three categories: human food, human technology, and humans. Simply put, rats (like a lot of people) prefer meat to vegan food, so your raw vegetables are safer than a hamburger you may leave around the apartment. As for technology, more than a quarter of all electrical and phone cable tears are caused by rats, which chew through materials that they probably think are vines. Sometimes, this relentless and unfocused chewing can lead to electrical fires; of which, again, about a quarter are caused by rats.
As for chewing on people? Well, about 50,000 unlucky people every year are bitten by a rat, and the largest subgroup there is children. If you have kids, and you know you have a rat problem, don't let your children go to bed after dinner without washing up. Again, it is the smell of the food that attracts rodents, who will go after food remains on hands or mouths of unsuspecting sleepers.
Unsavory and Rude
So what else are these vicious rodents doing to ruin the good times of everyone else? Well, for one thing, they urinate...a lot. Like other animals (we are looking at you, Fido), male and female rodents will mark their territory with their scent, even going over a spot where another one has gone in order to establish dominance.
Also, these unwanted house guests not only come over uninvited, but they also all have a huge appetite. Some experts have even estimated that rodents eat about 20 percent of the human food supply every year, and causing more than $19 billion dollars in related damages. Not only that, but since these little guys are practically unstoppable in this area, the Food and Drug Administration allows for a specified amount of droppings from rodents in food stuffs. That is beyond gross.
And when these nasty little creatures do not get enough food from other sources, well, they simply resort to cannibalism. Rodent mothers will often eat their young, if for no other reason than that they do not want to expend whatever energy is necessary to take care of them. It is also possible that this has something to do with scent, since rats in captivity in cleaner cages are more likely to engage in cannibalism, as if they are unable to recognize each other without that familiar filthy smell.
If the idea of rodents eating your food and eating each other just seems to make you hungry (and we really cannot imagine any reason why that might be the case), it is possible for humans to eat rats. If you are a reasonable person and trying to avoid the taste of rodent in your diet, you would do well to avoid the street food in developing nations like Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, where these animals are frequently cooked and served to (sometimes unsuspecting) customers.
The Holy Rodent?
Every Animal Has Its Fans
It could be that you have read all of these alarming facts about these unsavory creatures, and yet you still think, "Hey, they can't be all bad." Well, you would not be alone in coming to that conclusion. Believe it or not, rodents are actually venerated by people who frequent the Karni Mata Temple in India. Here, seeing a white rodent or having one scamper across your feet is a positive sign. And if you want to see the place for yourself, all you have to do is check out the video below. We have to admit, these guys can be pretty cute under the right circumstances.