Rats are various medium-sized, long-tailed rodents.
In scientific usage, rat applies to any of 56 rodent species in the genus Rattus. These are also known as”true rats.”
Many members of other rodent genera and families are also referred to as rats, and share many characteristics with true rats. Examples include the North American pack rats, a number of species loosely called kangaroo rats, and others.
The average lifespan of any given rat depends on which species is being discussed, but many only live about a year due to predation.
Rats are typically distinguished from mice by their size.
They have bodies about 12 centimeters (5 inches), or longer; tail length ranges from shorter than body length to appreciably longer.
Rats are generally slender with a pointed head, large eyes, and prominent, thinly furred ears. They have moderately long legs and long, sharp claws. The bald soles of their narrow hind feet possess fleshy pads of variable size, depending on species.
The best known rats are the black rat (Rattus rattus), and the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus).
In their natural habitats rats are primarily nocturnal — the brown rat is a prominent exception, being active day and night in both urban and rural environments.
All rats are terrestrial, and many are also arboreal.
Rats are some of the most social rodents of all. They live in large, cooperative communities.
Rats become attached to one another, love their families, enjoy playing, wrestling, and sleeping curled up together. They will take care of injured or sick rats in their family.
Rats have numerous ways of communicating with each other, the most common being body language. They have excellent hearing, and they communicate with each other by producing and recognizing meaningful ultrasound frequencies that humans cannot hear. They also communicate by touch, by smell, and by sound at frequencies that we can’t hear.
Rats are expert at navigating the world in the dark using their sense of touch. They rhythmically brush and tap about 60 large vibrissae (whiskers) against objects to determine object size, shape, orientation, and texture. This behavior is called “whisking.”
Rats use their tails for balance. They climb ropes and anchor chains, they walk along fences and telephone wires and branches, and their tails help them balance.
Rats are also excellent swimmers. They are capable of holding their breath for up to three minutes and treading water for up to three days. And given their fondness for underground pipes, sewer rats can occasionally find their way into pipes that lead up into toilets.
Rats have excellent memories, and once they learn a navigation route, they never forget it.
Rats’ front teeth grow 11 to 14 centimeters (4.5 to 5.5 inches) each year. Rats wear them down by continuously gnawing on everything around them, including cement, brick, wood, lead pipes.
Rats may grind their teeth when stressed or in pain, but tooth-grinding is typically a rat’s way of expressing contentment and relaxation. This behavior is known as bruxing.
Rats are opportunist omnivorous eaters. That means they will eat whatever they can find. In most cases, this includes grains, fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts and any other edibles they might find. Although rats prefer to eat what they find, they will hunt in occasion, catching bugs and other small animals.
Rats, like hamsters and other rodents, are food hoarders. That means they’ll take more food than they can eat so they can hold on to it for later. Many will eat some of what they find, then bring the rest along so they can hide it near where they live.
Rats are careful eaters. To avoid eating something that might make them sick, wild rats are used to “sampling” or trying tiny amounts of foods to make sure they can digest it properly.
Rats get a bad rap for being ugly, dirty and mean animals, but they’re actually quite clean and caring animals. They can spend several hours a day cleaning and grooming themselves In fact, rats are less likely than dogs or cats to catch and transmit parasites and viruses.
Rat reproduction has been most intensively studied in the brown rat. This prolific rodent reaches sexual maturity at three months and may produce up to 12 litters of 2 to 22 young (8 or 9 is usual) per year, with peaks in the spring and autumn and a gestation period of 21 to 26 days.
The fancy rat is the most common breed of domesticated or pet rat. The name fancy rat derives from the idea of animal fancy (the promotion of domesticated animals) or the phrase “to fancy” (meaning to like or appreciate). They live around two or three years.
The Canadian province of Alberta (population 4.25 million) is notable for being the largest inhabited area on Earth which is free of true rats due to very aggressive government rat control policies.
Rat meat is a food that, while taboo in some cultures, is a dietary staple in others. Taboos include fears of disease or religious prohibition, but in many places, the high number of rats has led to their incorporation into the local diets.
Rat stew is consumed in American cuisine in the state of West Virginia. Rat-on-a-stick is a roasted rat dish consumed in Vietnam and Thailand.
In France and Victorian Britain rich people ate rat pie. During food rationing due to World War II, British biologists ate laboratory rat, creamed.
On the Isle of Man, there is a taboo against the word “rat”.
The rat 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.
In Indian tradition, rats are seen as the vehicle of Ganesha, and a rat’s statue is always found in a temple of Ganesh.