Ratty’s big Adventure

Sigmodon hispidus or another cotton rat close ...

Sigmodon hispidus or another cotton rat close to it is among the rodents recorded from the Bay Islands of Honduras. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s blog post is about an animal that has become indispensable in the genres of horror and vampires: the rat.

Rodents are part of the order Rodentia, which consists roughly of 29 different families and some 1,800 species. Rodents live in all sorts of habitats, with Antarctica being the only exception to their world-wide domination.

Rodents are rapid breeders and can have between 1 to 20 offspring in one litter. Their lifespan can be anything from a short 6 months to a surprisingly long 10 years.

Brown rats have become the staple “villain” of vampire lore – who could ever forget their cinematic antics in Werner Herzog’s version of Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) – or indeed the furore about the cruel treatment the rats allegedly received at the hands of Herzog and his film crew?

In history brown rats are largely blamed for the spread of the plague and their very existence caused ancient Egyptians to befriend cats in their temples to protect grain stores from being raided by our intrepid little ratty. In Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts rats will have their great entrance in my continuing saga – but you’ll have to wait a while longer, before you can read about that!

Brown rats walk on the soles of their feet and use their toes to grip on to things when they climb, making them fast and very agile. Their long, scaly tail balances out their elongated bodies. Rats have a pointy snout, large ears, big button eyes and twitching noses with sensitive whiskers.

Anyone who’s ever been to London will know that brown rats are totally unafraid of humans and these rodents can reach enormous sizes. The Pixar animated movie Ratatouille (2007) may have done something to change our attitude towards rats, but I doubt it will be enough to endear the little master-thieves to us for long.

Rats are very courageous and when cornered, will turn to fight their attackers. They are also resourceful and very clever. Years ago I lived in a railway cottage in Surrey and the embankment behind our garden was always teaming with rabbits. One day rats moved in and drove out the rabbits to take over their burrows. Some of the rats that came out at dusk were nearly as large as rabbits – no wonder the bunnies took to their heels and found themselves a new home!

Rats are adaptable and fast learners; as a result they have long been the victims of sadistic scientists who think anything goes in the name of scientific advancement – after all, under the guise of “for the greater good of mankind” scientists, who make breakthrough discoveries in the medical or pharmaceutical field can reap huge rewards…what do the lives of a few million animals matter when so much money is at stake?

Throughout my cancer treatment – which I didn’t want and would have been far happier to do without – I kept thinking how many of these animals had to die a terrible death just to keep one middle-aged and on the whole pretty useless woman alive. There is enough compelling evidence that animal testing is wasteful and not a great deal of use either, so why do such obscene practices continue? Because somebody is making a great deal of money out of ratty and his friends!

A brown hooded rat show sitting on the arm of ...

A brown hooded rat show sitting on the arm of a leather chair (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We may be scared of rats, we may not like the look of their scaly tales and their twitching whiskers but where would we be without them? We owe them a debt of gratitude that goes way beyond what we could ever repay in rice, popcorn, half-eaten burgers or carelessly thrown away chips.

Next time you throw a drinks can at a rat or shoo it away, as you’re crossing the street when you come out of Waterloo Station, spare a thought for the Eastern wood rat, a cute little member of the rodent family, or the Hispid cotton rat or the Marsh rice rat, a semiaquatic omnivore, who lives a solitary nocturnal life in South Eastern USA, Northern Venezuela and Northern Peru.

Just remind yourself of the great adventure for the greater good of humanity that ratty is braving every day!


17 thoughts on “Ratty’s big Adventure

  1. I think rats are fascinating creatures because of their intelligence. As I have lived in the countryside for about fifteen years, i have seen quite a lot of them. Even though I respect their intelligence and know that many of died painfully to save our lives, I still do not like them. There are no many creatures which have this effect on me and so I feel rather bad about it.


    • i know what you mean – when I saw the pictures of those giant Gambian rats invading Florida yesterday, I shuddered. Rats can be very agressive when they’re protecting their nests and they will attack…but then so would I if anyone threatened my offspring (if I had any to protect). I guess we’ve got this age old love/hate relationship with rats because they once threatened our very survival (14th century and several times after).


      • I saw it on Yahoo News. These ratties weigh up to 9 pounds are are as big as a domestic cat. Fancy coming across that at Waterloo Station! Mind you, the rats we had in our garden at the railway cottage were as large as a rabbit.


      • She wouldn’t have time, the rat would snuffle her up and eat her! When I saw the picture yesterday, I was reminded of that Sylvester the Cat cartoon, where he mistakes a baby kangaroo for a giant mouse…poor Sylvester is terrified of the boxing “mouse”.


      • have just sent you the link to the news item via email. Scary, didn’t they make Herbert’s book into a film? I vaguely remember seeing just the trailer for it…thousands of rats…and vowing never to watch it!


      • I haven’t seen the film but I have been told that it is really scary. I might get it and watch it with my mother – she will thrill to be standing on a chair and screaming whilst watching it. I’m going to look at the link now. Thanks for that.


  2. If you can’t tell from my avatar, I have always been fond of rats. In fact, they would play a somewhat essential role in that silly sci-fi book I published last year. Being unsure how to feel about their essential use for the well-being of people probably inspired just exactly how events in my story occur.


    • I wasn’t sure if it was Ratty in your avatar or Mousie. Having just seen a news item on Yahoo about giant Gambian rats that weigh up to 9 pounds…I feel a horror story coming on…interesting to hear that you included them in a sci-fi story. Rats in space – I love it.


  3. Hi,
    I am one of those people that hate rats, mainly because of the damage they do. But there are a lot of animals as you pointed out that are in the rodent family and are no way really associated with the common rat.

    I am also against animal cruelty, and you are right, there has been a few breakthroughs but for the amount of animals that have died or have had to live in fear, no where near enough breakthroughs to make up for this at all.


    • Thank you for your insightful response to a post about an often misunderstood creature. Brown rats only multiply to such an extend because our wasteful society produces so much nourishing rubbish. Instead of blaming rodents we should accept our responsibility for the planet and all its other inhabitants’ wellbeing.


  4. Hi Maria!
    The rat personifies perfectly adaptability and the survival instiinct. Your article shows that there is much to admire in this generally hated and feared rodent. I’ve written a short story called With a Whisker, which is soon to be published on Kindle as part of an anthology. Your research has produced some very interesting facts. Thank you!
    I’m currently nearing the end of reading your novel Willow the Vampire and the Sacred Grove and can recommend it as an exciting read. I think it would be wasted on eleven-year-olds!


    • Thank you for the compliments on Willow’s first adventure and your affection for the much maligned ratty. I look forward to your short story anthology and hope to see you this week at the venue we met the last time?


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