Nature Bulletin No. 81 August 31, 1946
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Clayton F. Smith, President
Roberts Mann, Superintendent of Conservation
Rats and men have been at war since the dawn of history. The "cradle
of mankind" Central Asia, apparently was also the place of origin of the
rat. From there, living and traveling with man, it has spread over the
globe. In the United States today there are about as many rats as there
Cur common rat is the Norway or brown rat which arrived here from
Europe before the Revolutionary War. Fiercer and more cunning, it
soon exterminated the black rat and the roof rat which had migrated
here with the early colonists and thrived. The black rat -- which is
glossy black above, smaller and more slender -- and the roof rat, a close
relative, are found now only rarely in some of the southern states,
although still common in tropical America.
These three rats and the common house mouse, another immigrant, are
distinguished from our native rats and mice by having three rows of
tubercles along the crowns of their molar teeth. Cur principal native rats
are the rice rat, the cotton rat, and that friendly nuisance: the wood rat
or pack rat.
The Norway rat is the most destructive animal in the world. In the
United States, each year, they consume and damage foodstuffs and
property valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. Infested with fleas,
and commonly living in cellars, refuse dumps and filth, they transmit
many serious human diseases, including typhus and bubonic plague.
They are hated, loathed and feared. They possess acute senses,
particularly the sense of smell, and a high degree of animal intelligence.
They are extremely adaptable. They are omnivorous and will eat their
own kind or even attack man if starved. They breed rapidly, having 6 to
20 blind naked young in a litter and 6 or more litters per year which
mature and begin breeding before the age of six months.
About the only redeeming feature of the rat is the fact that, having lived
with man and eaten the same foods for thousands of years, they react
alike to the same diseases and the same treatments. Special strains are
bred and experimented upon in laboratories to find the cause and cure
of many human ills.
Red squill, the specific poison for rats, causes other animals to vomit.
That is one thing a rat cannot do.
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Update: June 2012