Some people may fancy rats as pets, but for the most part, a rat in the house is not considered a good thing. Rats have been plaguing humans -- and giving them the plague -- for thousands of years.
There are two main species of rats scurrying around: Rattus rattus and Rattus norvegicus. Lots of common names are used for each of these rat species, but the black rat and the Norway rat seem to be the most agreed upon. Part of the reason for the diverse nomenclature is that members of both species vary in color as well as size, and are happy living in a wide variety of environments. And that's just the beginning of muddled human understanding when it comes to rats. Read on to learn some of the top myths about these rodents.
10: Rats Can Grow as Big as Cats
In some parts of the world, such as the remote rain forests of Papua New Guinea, certain rat species can grow quite large. But even then, those rare rodents -- like a specimen found in 2009 -- aren't usually catlike in size. That one only weighed in at a little more than 3 pounds (1.5 kilograms).
Rattus rattus and Rattus norvegicus, the two most common species of rats people are likely to encounter, usually tip the scales at around 1 pound, and may infrequently grow up to 2 pounds (0.5 kilograms to 1 kilogram). Meanwhile, most domesticated cats tend to weigh around 8 to 10 pounds on average (3.5 to 4.5 kilograms). Big difference.
9: Cats Can Control Rat Populations
Since cats tend to outweigh rats, it might seem as if they're (sorry in advance for this) the cat's pajamas at controlling rodent populations, but that's not quite the case. Sure, cats may occasionally bring home gifts of dubious appeal to their owners, but they're not really effective at keeping rat infestations under control since rats breed so rapidly and tend to escape to confined spaces that cats can't access.
Healthy adult rats are also often too big for cats to manageably oppose, and cats' interest in and ability to hunt varies greatly depending on the individual. Plus, there's a related downside to having pets if you want to control rodents populations: If you leave their food and water dishes out, your home could be attracting more rats than it would have been in the first place.
8: Rats Populations Are on Par With Per Capita Rates
Many rodent-related myths focus on how many rats exist per capita in any given metropolis -- often on par with the human population -- but that's pure farce. It stems in large part from a coincidental study conducted in the early 1900s, which vaguely pegged England's rat population at about 40 million -- or 1 acre of cultivated land per rat. Since at the time approximately 40 million people lived in England, people have long equated these two unrelated statistics to infer that modern cities contain equal numbers of rats and people. In reality, the number of rats is likely to be lower and vary widely in density depending on the area in question.
7: Cheese Makes the Best Rat Bait
Traditionalists might consider cheese to be the ideal rat bait, but there are lots more effective foods and substances to bait traps with. Professionals often recommend using a dollop of peanut butter as bait, along with meat, chocolate or dried fruit. Cotton balls can also work: Female rats may be tempted to snatch them for nesting purposes.
Rat traps should be placed close to walls and in out-of-the-way protected or darkened places where signs of rat activity have been spotted. They can be made more effective by prebaiting them -- the rats encounter a sweet new spot for finding free food, but then the second time they go to snatch a snack: snap!
6: Once You Catch a Rat It's Case Closed
People often underestimate the number of rats in infested buildings and don't lay enough traps. It's better to err on the side of caution when it comes to rats, and hiring a professional exterminator is highly recommended. It's also important to continue rodent control measures for a significant period of time following the initial bonanza trapping effort, and follow up periodically going forward.
Another important step is to rodent-proof buildings and any other areas on a property that could harbor rats. Seal any gaps both inside and out so new rats can't sneak in once the old ones are cleared from the premises.
5: Rats Are a Sign of Poor Sanitation
Rats are extremely opportunistic animals, so even though some of the hallmarks of poor sanitation like uncontained garbage and litter often attract rats, cleaner environments can be prime spots for rat invasions, too. Rats will eat bird seed, pet food, grains, meats, fruits and vegetables. Pretty much anything they can wrap their paws around may make it on the menu (or at least be worthy of a quick gnawing).
Once rats have made themselves at home, however, the situation does become decidedly unhealthy. Rats can pass on dozens of diseases to other species, both directly and indirectly through infected fleas or mites.
4: Seeing a Rat During the Day is a Super Bad Sign
Although the more squeamish among us would probably argue that seeing a rat at any time -- night or day -- is bad in a big way, it's a myth that seeing a rat during the day is the sign of an especially serious infestation. Rats are generally nocturnal, but they only sleep in short bursts and are more easily spotted while foraging during daylight hours.
Their most active times of the day are the 30 minutes prior to sunrise and the 30 minutes following sunset, but they may move about at any time -- especially if the humans in a particular building are more active at night. Rats may also scurry around during daylight hours if safe passage is established, or they may risk daytime excursions if more dominant rats force them to -- although this last one could be a definite indication that extermination efforts need to begin pronto.
3: Rats are only Dangerous as Pathogen Transporters
Although rats are indeed to blame for spreading some diseases by transporting parasites such as fleas and mites that harbor deadly pathogens, rats are a serious health threat for other reasons as well. They can spread diseases by biting people, and by contaminating food and water with their fur, urine and droppings, causing some pretty serious diseases. Any contaminated food and remnants of rats found should be disposed of extremely carefully.
2: All Rat Urine is Toxic
Most rat urine -- while gross smelling and obviously not something you'd prefer to ingest -- is nontoxic. Unless of course the urine came from an infected rat, in which case it's a whole other story. Rat urine, along with feces and other bodily fluids, can transmit diseases from rats to humans. If you need to deal with an area that's been exposed to rodent attentions, proceed with caution and clean it thoroughly, disinfecting or disposing of any affected items.
1: Rats Do Not Have Bladders
Based on the previous page, you may wonder how this myth even came to be. Rat communication focuses heavily on scent marking; it may serve as a way for them to define their territories, let other rats know when they're going into heat, or mark safe passageways to and from food sources. Fortunately for anyone who wants to own a rat as a pet, it's good to note that with a little persistence, many pet rats can be successfully potty trained. They may not muster 100 percent success rates, but it'll still make caring for them a lot easier and a lot less stinky.
And while rats are often misunderstood, at least now you know these 10 myths for the falsehoods they are.