Rats: Fact and fiction

Editorialin Pests & Diseases

The mere mention of rats draws many negative connotations. You've probably heard phrases such as "dirty rat" and "drowned rat", but do rats really deserve their bad name?

The ugly

It's estimated that rodents are responsible for depleting one-fifth of the global food supply every year. And rats communicate and mark their territory by urinating pretty much everywhere they go. Some estimates put the annual financial cost of soiled or damaged goods caused by rats at over £11 billion ($19 billion US).

The bad

People think of rats as unclean but they actually spend long periods grooming and cleaning every day.

However, rats do still help transmit many diseases that affect humans, most notably blamed for the Black Death plague that swept through Europe in the 14th Century, as well as the Great Plague of London in the 17th Century. Black rats do carry fleas which can transfer harmful bacteria to humans when they bite. However, recent studies indicate that rats were not responsible for such a rapid spread of the pandemic Black Death plague.

Rats impact on our wildlife too, preying on insects, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and more. Ground-nesting birds make particularly easy targets.

The good

But rats, whilst not part of our native fauna, are also beneficial. They provide a source of food for our predators. Foxes, stoats and barn owls for example will readily hunt and eat rats.

And through their natural foraging techniques, rats act as seed dispersers. Their burrows also tend to aerate the soil, improving its overall condition.

These scavengers also deal with the mounting piles of waste we leave behind, doing a vital job of reducing scraps and waste

Please read the rest of the facts about Rats on BBC Nature

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