Rats: Pets or pests?
Whether you think rats are lovely furry creatures which make good pets or whether you think they are revolting vermin, you have to admire them: they are excellent survivors.
The history of the rat goes back a long way - their bones have even been found in caves inhabited by prehistoric man. As long as there have been people, there have been rats. In fact, it could be said that wherever there are people there are rats. And that may be why they are on the increase – nowadays there are more and more rats and they are getting stronger and stronger. Experts are now even beginning to talk about ‘super rats’ which live longer than their forebears and are becoming increasingly resistant to modern rat poisons.
Rats are very capable creatures. Their front incisor teeth never stop growing, so they can gnaw incessantly, however strong the material they are gnawing might be – even concrete cannot stop a rat! And they have extremely strong jaws too, resulting in a lethal bite power! Even more incredibly, their bone structure is collapsible. This means that they can get through pipes with a diameter of under three centimetres. They are intelligent too and, according to recent research, can laugh when they find something funny.
Rats also have some less appealing habits and traits. In city environments they live in sewers and eat what they find there. They are also cannibals and will eat each other, on occasion, as well as chewing through electricity cables. This last habit often results in fire. According to the Fire Brigade, one in twenty house fires in Britain is due to rat-chewed electricity wires. As if this wasn’t reason enough to dislike rats, they are also known carriers of more than fifty diseases including cholera and typhus.
However, perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on rats – many people may owe their lives to rats. Since the 17th century rats have been used in medical experiments which have contributed to the development of ever more effective drugs to be used in the treatment of illnesses. In the future even more of us may have cause to be grateful to our rodent friends – rat breeding programmes are currently producing rats that can smell landmines underground and in the future it is hoped to breed rats that will be able to locate people buried under rubble.
Love them or loathe them, there is no doubt that rats will be with us for a long time to come!
Quick Quiz: Read the clues below and write the solutions on a piece of paper. Then take the first letter of each answer and rearrange them to find the hidden word connected with this Talking Point.
1. Rats can get __________ pipes with a diameter of under three centimetres.
2. In city environments they live in sewers and __________ what they find there.
3. They are also cannibals and will eat each other, on occasion, as well as chewing through electricity cables. This last habit __________ results in fire.
4. They are also known carriers of more than fifty __________, including cholera and typhus.
5. In the future it is hoped to breed rats that will be able to locate people buried under __________.
6. Love them or loathe them, there is __________ doubt that rats will be with us for a long time to come!