Rats are cunning, intelligent, and amazingly tenacious creatures that can survive in almost any, even the most extreme conditions. Rats are carriers of dangerous diseases and infections.

City rats and sewer rats can do enormous damage and spread diseases by spoiling sources of food, wooden buildings, and electrical wiring. However, in addition to notoriety, the rat behaviour possesses surprising abilities and qualities.

And not to forget the benefits these animals provide to humanity as active ingredients of the medicine. Here are some of the most interesting facts about rats.

Table of Contents

1. Oldest Mammals

Guinea pigs
Guinea pigs | Image Credit – Flickr

Rats are the oldest mammals – they appeared much earlier than humans (the time difference is about 48 million years). During this period, the number of rats almost two times exceeded the number of inhabitants of the planet.

There is even the assumption that these rodents caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Mammals are accused of being the exterminators of the eggs of giant animals. The prehistoric rodent, rat eating dinosaur egg, externally resembled a gigantic guinea pig later nicknamed Goya. 

It is estimated that the weight of this animal was about 700 kg. As a result, it had to walk on straight hind limbs, unlike modern rodents, whose limbs are bent. Eating grass was a prehistoric rat’s main occupation; it was forced to devour plants in large quantities to maintain its overall shape.

2. Likely to survive extinction

Our planet has faced many extinctions of its creatures, the best known of which is the dinosaurs, which occurred around 66 million years ago. While large and imposing creatures have perished, others survive and thrive. It is the case of this small mammal, no dead rat.

In 2014, researchers looked at which species might survive in the event of the next great extinction, and they found it’s the rat populations. Researchers believe that rats find a way to survive each extinction, adapt to new environments, evolve and high antimicrobial resistant. 

3. Monster Rat

The Bosavi woolly rat
The Bosavi Woolly Rat | Image Credit – Information Nigeria

The largest rat discovered is the Bosavi woolly rat, a species found in 2009. It is one of the largest rat species, over 81 cm long (including its tail), and weighs over 1.5 kg.

The common house rat is about 20 inches (50 cm) long and weighs approximately 0.34 kg. However, scientific studies have determined that common rats such as brown Norway rats are getting bigger. 

The researchers think that the rat’s common physiology prevents them from becoming giant rats. For example, in urban ecosystems such as New York City, researchers determined that rats would likely never exceed 1 kg weight.

4. One of the first animals to visit space

Rats were one of the first animals sent into space. The rat (later named Hector) took off on a French Veronique AGI weather rocket on February 22, 1961. Moreover, the first rat, which was supposed to go into space, gnawed through a bundle of cables from devices that read information, so another replaced it. 

Luck, however, did not smile at the rat for long: six months later, Hector was euthanized to study the effect of weightlessness on the electrodes in the animal’s body.

And on October 15, 1962, another rat, Castor, went into space. However, due to technical reasons, the rocket’s flight began later than planned, and the loss of communication led to the fact that the warhead separated from the rocket being found more than an hour later. 

During this time, Castor died of overheating. The same fate befell another rat, who flew into orbit on October 18, 1962. The search team could never find the head of the apparatus with the container where the rat was located.

5. First Captivity

Albino pet rat
Albino pet rats were bred in captivity | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Our current strain of domestic rats probably originated in England in the 17th century. Jack Black, Queen Victoria’s royal rat catcher, has bred the first albino rats in captivity.

Before this, rats were killed as vermin, used as food in times of plague, and captured alive or bred to be used in a sport called “rat baiting,” where people would challenge a dog to kill as many rats as he could in a certain period. It didn’t take long for these pet rats to become the favorite of high society ladies. Australian Pale Field rat would be ideal as pets as they are gentle and nocturnal.

According to the journal of comparative and physiological psychology, the 6 model organisms of rats observed had a tendency to increase their activity normally during day times. However, due to lack of data availability and the inconstant nature of rats the fact is still in debate.

6. Rats can Laugh

Rats make high-pitched chirping sounds (especially when tickled), but people do not hear them. Rats communicate at a very high frequency, above 50 kilohertz, so we, unfortunately, cannot hear their laughter without the help of a bat detection device. 

Rats especially like to be tickled on their belly and back of the head. They chatter or grind their teeth in a happy state, accompanied by twitching eyes. But they will stop laughing when conditions change, such as a bright light or sense of smell of an approaching cat. 

7. Social Creatures

Rats are social creatures
Rats are social creatures | Image Credit – Flickr

Rats are social animals by nature and have their ways of communicating and behaving. They have different personalities, and males can be quite different from females. In the wild, rats tend to live in groups of five, often settling near other rat families. 

In areas of low density, there is one male per group, which is very territorial and sexually mature. It is the only mating partner for female rats. In areas with higher densities, male rats tend to be less territorial, with several males per group.

A 2013 discovery pointed out that rats communicate by sniffing each other. It distinguishes dominant from dominated rats. These rodents also love human company and can respond to their name. Rats are easy to train. Like dogs, they are ready to do anything for a tasty treat. 

They love the interaction they get by doing things like searching, jumping, and coming on a call.

8. Well organized

Rats are very organized animals and are similar to humans in terms of separating “rooms” in their “houses.” Rats separate their burrows by areas, and each of them is dedicated exclusively to a purpose, such as storing food water, urine, rodent droppings, and others for rest. According to the research by Van Der Meer, rats are flexible in decision-making and planning. 

9. Amazing Instinct

Many animals can feel the approach of natural disasters, such as tsunamis or earthquakes. It is quite understandable from a scientific point of view, but rat instinct is phenomenal. 

These animals feel what it would seem impossible to feel. For example, it is surprising that rats can predict the development of an event – they know what will happen in the future. And when danger approaches, animals tend to leave the danger zone as quickly as possible. 

The well-known fact confirms that rats living on the ship in anticipation of its accident left it quickly. The rats even sense the subsequent airstrike or nuclear test, leaving the test site in advance.

10. Can Empathize

In 2011, a group of researchers experimented to find out if rats could show empathy towards their congeners, notwithstanding the fear of the environment in which they live. For this, the researchers first put several rats together for two weeks so they could learn to bond. Then they separated them into two groups. 

The first was enclosed in a small tube, and the second was left free. The researchers planted empty canisters and stuffed rats around the enclosed rats to see if this would deter the free rats from playing heroes.

It turns out not. Having shown caution initially, the free rats moved towards their trapped congeners and freed them, the lid of the tubes being opened only from the outside. 

Besides the trapped rats, the scientists also put food in other tubes. After freeing their friends, the rats also grabbed the food and shared it with their previously imprisoned mates.

11. Fantastic Swimmers

Rat swimming
Rat swimming | Image Credit – Pixabay

Even though rats usually do not like to swim and get wet, they swim very well. Cases have been recorded when they crossed rivers and bays, and these animals can swim for up to several days without a break for rest. 

In 2013, researchers recorded a video showing how easy it is for a rat to climb from the sewers to a toilet, go through the pipes, and avoid all the inconveniences that may arise in its quest for food sources or new dry spaces.

Rats have great strength and incredible flexibility to navigate through the narrowest of pipes. The report showed how rats could swim for three days and hold their breath underwater for three minutes. 

It explains why they are prepared to withstand and go through unharmed the discharges of water and even swim inside the sewers.

12. Rats don’t have a gag reflex

These rodents cannot vomit or burp due to the restrictive wall between the two stomachs and their inability to control the diaphragm muscles. They have a powerful gastroesophageal barrier, making it almost impossible for the stomach’s contents to back up. It is one of the reasons why rats are picky eaters. As a cure for indigestion, they usually use clay. 

13. Love Classical Music

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin made remarkable discovery that rats adore classical music

These animals were allowed to listen to different sounds for two months during the experiment. One pack of rats was allowed to react only to Mozart, another to modern atonal melody, and a third to fan sound. 

Then they were positioned in a cage where they could make sounds by standing on different keys. Most of them favored listening to Mozart, a few to modern music, and none of the rats wanted to listen to the fan.

14. Homologous to the Human Organism

Rats first entered the laboratory in 1828. Scientists preferred rat strains from albino rats over their brown (such as Norway rat; rattus norvegicus) and wild counterparts. Since then, rats have been constantly used in the laboratory for several drug tests and experiments. It is because rats have an organism similar to ours. 

Practically 95% of the rat organism is similar to ours, which makes them useful for the testing market for products to be commercialized. The importance of rats in narrative synthesis is enormous. Incredible feats have been achieved using these animals. The specimens are genetically modified to be virtually identical. 

Some manipulations generate species that develop type 1 diabetes and obesity. Some modified rats have been used to develop skin and cartilage for transplantation into humans in recent times.

15. Can Detect Childhood Tuberculosis

Rats can diagnose deadly TB
Rats can diagnose deadly TB | Image Credit – The Guardian

This fact may surprise many of us, yet rats have been used as detectors for childhood tuberculosis. It happened in 2016, when tuberculosis wreaked havoc in Mozambique and Tanzania, killing 1.3 million people, including 130,000 children. 

The problem is that tuberculosis is not only a complex disease to treat; it is also difficult to detect, especially in children. Nearly 70% of children with tuberculosis pass under doctors’ radar to the extent that the latter has devised a particular process to solve this problem.

Indeed, they trained rats to recognize certain tuberculosis compounds so well that when the doctors had finished taking samples from potential patients, they made the rats sniff the samples. The latter, by their behavior, made understand to physicians that a sample contained tuberculosis compounds. 

This method has created it possible to identify nearly 40% more patients than those identified by doctors based on the usual tests.

16. Rats Infestation in Europe

Chicago has been the most rat-infested American city for six consecutive years. Los Angeles came in second, followed by New York and Washington D.C. Globally, London and Paris also have a well-documented rat infestation problem. The City of Light was forced to close several parks in 2016 to exterminate and kill rats as they were risk to public health.

17. First Position in the Chinese Calendar

The rat is given moral primacy and the dominant place in the Chinese calendar. Moreover, an ancient Chinese legend says that a rat was supposed to visit the Buddha’s palace in the company of a cat. 

However, at the last moment, it was afraid that the Buddha would compare it to a cat, and this comparison would not be in its favor. The rat eventually decided not to wait for the cat but to come to the palace itself. And to impress the Buddha, it came riding a bull. 

As a result, the rat got the first place in the calendar, and the bull that brought it – the second. The cat was not among the animals marked on the calendar, and since then, they have had an irreconcilable enmity with the rat.

In China, the rat symbolizes prosperity, wisdom, well-being, and the ability to find non-standard solutions to difficult situations, a perfect reference manager. It was the rat, according to another Chinese legend, that gave humanity food supplies. 

18. Sacred Animal in India

Karni mata temple
Karni mata temple | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

In the town of Deshnoke in western India, there is a temple of Karni Mata, built in honor of the Hindu saint of the same name, who was considered the incarnation of the goddess Durga. 

The temple housed thousands of rats (albino and black rat) for hundreds of years. Far from being pests, they are revered. The temple was built for them, and people who visit it revere them as their reincarnated ancestors. 

The albino rats seen in this population are believed to be the goddess Karni Mata or her sons. People share their food with these rats, walk barefoot in their temple, and if they kill a rat, even by accident, they must replace it with a life-size golden rat statue. 

Oddly enough, while the Black Death swept through the area, the people at the temple never got sick. It is likely due to the local population of healthy rats preventing infected intruders from entering the temple.

19. Monument dedicated to Laboratory Rats

Rat monuments
Rat monuments | Image Credit – Flickr

The monument, 1.82 meters high, is located in the Institute of Cytology and Genetics courtyard in Novosibirsk. 

20. Can Regret 

Rats can show regret; it is the result the researchers came to in 2014 when they conducted a particular experiment. They built a “restaurant for rodents.” 

The experiment was simple: Bring the lab rats into a circular enclosure comprising boxes where researchers distributed food after various waiting times. Thus, if the rats were patient, they enjoyed a delicious dish.

On the other hand, if they are not patient, they taste a dish of lesser importance. The challenge was that the rat could not get out once in a box. 

The researchers thus discovered that the rats, having opted for the fastest meal, experienced regret, characterized by a glance towards the box they had not entered but promised a better meal despite a longer waiting time.


People have considered rats and mice like Norway and black rats as unfriendly and dirty pests that can transmit serious diseases and use pest control or rodent control to prevent rodent infestations. Despite being an amazing creature that has been contributing humanity benefits for a long time, the control methods for these pests are a must for disease control from rat mites. ( Read this – Organic ways to get rid of rats)

(Last Updated on June 21, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Ankur Pradhan holds a bachelor’s degree in education and health and three years of content writing experience. Addicted to online creative writing, she puts some of what she feels inside her stormy heart on paper. She loves nature, so she is trying to motivate people to switch to alternative energy sources through her articles.