*GUEST BLOG by A Friend of Rats*
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The city hardly seems like a good place to see non-humyn animals at all, let alone a show of resistance by them. But look closer. The sewers are swarming with creatures who unabashedly gnaw at the cities roots, even as it feeds them. They see no contradiction in their lives. They know that even as you kill The Beast, you use every part of it…
Rats! The most common kind in this country is rattus norvegicus or the Norway (or brown) rat. They probably originated in northeast China, but no one knows for sure. In 1727, huge numbers of rats were reported swimming across the Volga river in Russia, apparently headed west. They later arrived in North America on ships during the American Revolution.
They’re now everywhere humans are; they’ve been living with us in some form for thousands of years. And for nearly the whole time, they’ve been sabotaging our more excessive endeavors. Rats chew through pipes, electrical wires, cement, even lead. As many as 26% of electrical cable breaks, 18% of phone cable disruptions, and 25% of fires of unknown origin are attributed to rats. And of course, they are well-known and feared for their consumption and destruction of our food supplies and the diseases they’ve helped spread around. For these reasons, our attempts at culling the rat population have grown ever more dramatic. In 1948, Warfarin was invented, the first modern anti-coagulant (i.e. causes internal bleeding) rat poison. Elaborate rat traps were created, the kind mostly used today, with a short tunnel leading to some sort of grain that was treated with poison. Rats are “neophopic” which means they stay close to home and generally avoid changes to their environment. They usually prefer to crawl through small spaces and keep at least one side to a wall when walking or running. These new rat traps attempt to take advantage of these traits by being small and snug and staying in one place for an extended period of time, so the rats will become more comfortable with it. The hope is that the poison, which is usually in a small enough dose that it doesn’t begin to work until it’s been ingested a few times, will be taken back to the nest and kill more rats. But rats become immune to the poisons so quickly that new ones have to be invented all the time.
By the 1970s, most rats had become resistant to Warfarin and some were even living off of grain that had been treated with it. No matter how hard people work to get rid of them, rat populations reach staggering numbers. Some research even indicates that if there is a sudden decline in a given rat population, the rats will become pregnant more often and have more babies. This, combined with the fact that a rat can start breeding the year she is born and have 4 to 6 litters of 7 or 8 babies each, means the rat population is huge, and just getting bigger. All those rats are wreaking havoc on cities, despite being supported by them.
Are rats conscious of their dependence on our trash, or their destruction? Maybe not, but they are no less powerful an example that we owe nothing to such flawed systems, even if we were born into them and they have fed us up until now (or continue to). We should work to find new and creative ways to live off the excess of our society, and to get rid of the parts we don’t like, in whatever ways we can, big or small. Like rats, we are complex animals trying to live satisfying lives, while fighting overwhelming and often unseen forces.
We can truly learn a lot from these lovely and fascinating creatures.