Rats have a terrible reputation, unfortunately. Read on to have the record set straight about these fascinating animals!
The word or image of a rat is likely to draw disgust. Seems appropriate for the key to the spread of the bubonic plague, don't you think? Well, with this year being the Chinese year of the rat, we thought it would be well-reasoned to show you the other side because we're convinced that rats... are harshly misunderstood.
Rats have earned their reputation simply by following humans into civilisation in the hopes of full bellies. Human settlements and the growth of agriculture were all but an invitation to these scurrying creatures who adopted the city life in order to sustain their need for food and shelter. Relegated to trash bins and sewers, it's no wonder they often carry deadly bacteria and other pathogens on their bodies. But does that mean that rats are inherently disgusting creatures?
Would you still think so if you knew that most rats wash themselves as much as cats do? In a cleaner environment that isn't rife with sewage and garbage, rats have often displayed their talent for problem-solving. Despite their cleanliness, and stories of filthiness, rats are no different from other animals that carry diseases (your cat and dog may too!), it’s their sheer numbers and ability to multiply that compounds the problem. Many people even argue that they make wonderful pets that form personal bonds with their humans. Rats have also repeatedly displayed a skill for working their way through mazes - a great example of their problem-solving capabilities.
As pets, rats definitely have a small but dedicated fan-base that swears by their capacity to become amazing companions. Rats are clean, quiet, and have minimal requirements but will bond with humans the same way a dog does. Of course, there is a significant difference between the rat you might find in your kitchen vs. a pet rat. Interestingly, almost every rat found on the streets or pet shops or even for lab testing are likely Norway rats (they are not Norwegian). The difference then lies in the way the rats are bred and socialised. Pet rats are often socialised and introduced to humans from a young age so that they are calm in human presence and able to bond with their humans. Lab rats, however, are often kept isolated and away from human companionship.
But perhaps one of the most significant reasons we should all be a little more considerate towards rats is probably the role they have played and continue to play in the field of research. Especially medical research. We can be thankful to lab rats for just about every scientific progress that has allowed humans to evolve their healthcare systems. From helping scientists understand empathy and anxiety in neurobiology to providing incredible insight into cancer, without lab rats it’s blatantly clear that our advanced healthcare would be just a little more primitive without rats.
But their contributions to human society, and to the world of companionship aren't all that make these little critters so special. There are so many wonderful facts about them that are heartwarming. Like cats may purr during a cuddle session, rats grind their teeth when stroked. Rats also display empathy; in lab experiments, rats have helped rescue other trapped rats who helped them before. Their vitals also change to match the distress of the fellow rat! Other amazing facts about rats include their propensity for dreams when asleep, and their tendency to giggle when they are tickled.
The bottom line when it comes to rat intelligence is that they are very smart and can quickly pick up things. Including figuring out mazes, learning tricks, even litter-training successfully! The rat in the Chinese zodiac stands for wisdom and intelligence. Ranking first in the list of Chinese zodiac signs, the description of people born under this sign is not unlike the animal itself: quick-witted, social, sometimes timid. Its key element is water, which is once again interesting considering the fact that the animal is a brilliant swimmer.
Chinese horoscopes for the Year of the Metal Rat seem to suggest a rollercoaster of a year with plenty of ups and downs, but if you're lucky to be anything like the animal, you'll probably make it through with resilience, empathy, and just a bit of ingenuity.