2020 Year of the Rat - 7 Facts About Rats you Didn't Know

2020 is year of the rat. A rat is the first animal in the Chinese zodiac, meaning a rat year is a year of renewal.

In Chinese culture, rats were seen as a sign of wealth and surplus. It represents spirit, wit, alertness, delicacy, flexibility and vitality. According to the Chinese zodiac 2020 will be a year filled with growth and accomplishments. People lucky enough to be born in the year of the rat are said to have qualities of creativity, honesty, generosity and ambition.

1.The Rat Is Revered in Many Cultures 

Many civilisations rather like rats. In India, the rat is the vehicle of Lord Ganesh (pictured above), while at Rajastan's famous Karni Mata Temple (known as the temple of rats), some 25,000 rats can be found.
These holy rats are called kabbas, and many people travel great distances to pay their respects. The temple draws visitors from across the country for blessings, as well as curious tourists from around the world.
 Karni Mata Temple


2. Rats May Not Have Caused the Black Plague


In a 2015 study that threatens to overturn the popular history of one of the world’s greatest health disasters, scientists suggest that the disease that caused the deaths of an estimated 50 million people had little to do with pest-ridden rats lurking in European cities.
Nils Christian Stenseth, one of the study’s authors, told BBC News that in order for there to be an outbreak caused by flea-infested rats, you would need warm summers, with not too much precipitation.
Instead, they say, outbreaks of the Black Death seem to correspond with weather patterns in Asia, not Europe itself. According to their analysis of the climate data, plague outbreaks in Europe can be linked to the years that central Asia experienced wet springs followed by warm summer. While such conditions would have been terrible for black rats, the scientists point out, they would have created ideal breeding conditions for another plague-bearing rodent: the gerbil (pictured below).
 

3. Rats Help Each Other Out


Rats are extremely social and affectionate animals. They enjoy the company of other rats. Without companionship, rats tend to become lonely and depressed.
Contrary to popular belief, rats are very clean animals, spending several hours everyday grooming themselves and their group members. Rats even take care of injured and sick rats in their group. 
In a new study, laboratory rats repeatedly freed their cage-mates from containers, even though there was no clear reward for doing so. The rodents didn't bother opening empty containers or those holding stuffed toy rats.
To the researchers' surprise, when presented with both a rat-holding container and one containing chocolate — the rats' favorite snack — the rodents not only chose to open both containers, but also to share the treats they liberated.
Peggy Mason, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago and lead author of the new study, says that the research shows that our empathy and impulse to help others are also common in rats.
 

4. Rats Are Trained to Save Lives


AFRICAN GIANT POUCHED rats, native to central Africa have bad vision but an extraordinary sense of smell.
This makes them perfect candidates for discovering hidden landmines by sniffing out the explosive TNT. Even decades after conflict, explosive remnants of war linger in the earth, maiming and killing thousands of people who stumble across them each year.
APOPO, a Belgian nonprofit has created an army of TNT-sniffing African giant pouched rats. These critters are light enough to walk over the mines without setting them off, and use their noses to find the explosives quickly.
Since APOPO was founded in 1997, these furry super-sniffers have helped clear 13,200 mines from minefields in Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola, and, most recently, in Cambodia.
 

5. Rats Can Be Smarter Than People


In 2015 The Harvard Business Review featured a story titled 'Rats can be smarter than people' about a PhD study conducted by Ben Vermaercke and his colleagues at KU Leuven University in Belgium. 
The research involved giving two cognitive-learning tasks to rats and students and comparing the results. With both tasks, the subjects were trained to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ patterns and then tested on their ability to apply that know-how to new types of patterns.
In the first task, rats and humans performed equally well. In the second, the rats did better than the students. The conclusion was that rats are able to apply what they’d learned more quickly than humans.
"A more complex brain isn’t always a better one. In information integration tasks, rats applied what they learned more quickly." said Vermaercke.
 
 

6. The Rat Is an ICON of Street Art


Described as the "Father of stencil graffiti", Blek le Rat is a French graffiti artist born in 1952. He was one of the first graffiti artists in Paris. Blek began his artwork in 1981, painting stencils of rats on the walls of Paris streets.
He described the rat as "the only free animal in the city", and one which "spreads the plague everywhere, just like street art".
Blek le Rat has had a great influence on today's graffiti-art and guerilla art movements including British street artist Banksy who has often featured rats in his work.
Banksy, London, early 2000s
In his 2005 autobiographical book Wall and Piece, Banksy tells his readers that rats “Exist without permission. They are hated, hunted and persecuted. They live in quiet desperation amongst the filth. And yet they are capable of bringing entire civilisations to their knees. If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved then rats are the ultimate role model.” 

The much-maligned rat is in fact a prodigy among animals. Its combination of intelligence, tenacity and survival instinct is arguably unparalleled in nature. A city rat, given enough time, can chew through a concrete wall to get where it needs to go – and in many cities contractors have started adding crushed glass to poured concrete to stop their inevitable tunneling. In the same sense, those who aspire to greatness in the graffiti world must have superhuman drive, cleverness, stubbornness and skill to create art in the face of the dangers and challenges involved in working in a forbidden medium.
As Banksy himself noted, "If you are going to damage someone's property, it's good to show some dedication"

7. The Rats Will Inherit the Earth

 
In the event of a future mass extinction, rats may be the animals best suited to repopulate the world, some scientists say. 
Mass extinctions have hit the Earth at least five times in geologic history, most recently about 65 million years ago, when scientists think an asteroid hit the planet and wiped out the dinosaurs. Mammals took advantage of the newly available ecological space and ultimately repopulated and dominated the animal kingdom.
Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom who studies Earth history, along with colleagues developed a thought experiment in which they consider which animal might be the most likely to survive and repopulate the world if this purported mass extinction were to take place. They concluded that rats may be the best candidates.
The researchers based their hypothesis on rats' proven ability to infiltrate most major landmasses and islands on the planet, as well as their persistence throughout the world despite widespread attempts to control their populations.
“Animals can evolve to be smaller as well as larger sizes." said Zalasiewicz.
"This will depend on what particular circumstances they find themselves in and what the selective pressures on them are,” he says. “So there will be future thin rats, future fat rats, slow and heavy rats, fast and ferocious rats, probably future aquatic rats.” So there might be giant rats. Then again, there might not. They'll adapt."
 

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