Rats are very interesting creatures but mostly vilified by myth and legend – often portrayed in fiction and cartoons as the long nosed villain, the baddy, someone not to be trusted.
I heard a line on a film the other day when an actor said, in a very French accent, “I don’t give a rat’s ass.” Hmmm – not quite sure what that refers to although I get the gist. I suppose the most famous thing rat’s are responsible for is the plague. Plagues, over the centuries are said to have killed 200,000,000 people and the infamous Black Death plague of the 1300s killed a quarter of the population of Europe and came about through infected fleas from rats originating in the Gobi Desert. Of course today, although plague still exists, very rarely is it fatal and can be completely cured by the use of antibiotics.
If you 'rat' on someone, you are supposed to 'dob them in' or inform on them, hence the negative connotation in the criminal world and on celluloid.
There are many fictional rats, some bad, some good and all, frankly, ugly: the author James Herbert wrote about a very aggressive species of mutant rats in his Rats Quadrilogy. There are some good ones though, Roland Rat is a puppet from British TV – fairly friendly I think, and there’s the relaxed Ratty Rat, friend and mentor of Mole from Wind in the Willows.
The Rat King from the Mutant ninja Turtles, remember him? Was he good, bad or neutral – I guess it depended on his mood? Even the Care Bears had a couple of nasty rats with the Rat King as well as the villainous Sir Funnybone.
Everyone did James Cagney impressions, shrugging shoulders and snarling, “You dirty rat!” and we remember Ernie Wise’s dreadful impersonation. In fact, Cagney always said it was something that he had never said in a film. Sarah Jessica Parker once said, and how correct she was, “A squirrel is just a rat with a cuter outfit.”
Why am I talking of rats?
Rattus norvegicus, the name for the brown rat seen mostly anywhere humans live in this part of the world is what we have in our garden right now. Three in fact. My other half is going to ring the council on Monday and ask for some assistance in getting rid.
Daddy rat photographed through the living room window on Saturday 30 January 2010, (actually, I never got close enough to look, it may be mummy rat - in any case this is just the largest of three that have suddenly appeared over the last few days that emptied my low level bird table.)
We had a cat once a few years ago that was an excellent rat catcher and we once found three headless rats on the lawn one morning as a present. On that occasion, an old large rambling mansion had been demolished a hundred or so yards up the road and clearly the rats had been displaced from there.
Shortly after the cat died, we then had a family of rats in our greenhouse tunnelling under the pavers inside and so extensive was their ‘rat run’ the pavers subsided when you stood on them. The council got rid of them for us on that occasion too!
Do I like them or hate them? In a comic book they’re fine – in the garden – absolutely not. Weil disease and infections from rat urine is a real hazard and as I spend a lot of time in the garden, I don’t want any additional risks over and above others that present themselves through being bitten, stung, scratched by thorns, shit on by careless birds and other general diseases and nasties that can be found in dark, dank corners.