A Rat On His Back

I was heading home the other day & a bicyclist rode by with a very large white rat on his shoulder, the long pink tail hanging down his bare back.  Man & rat, heading home together…it was a sweet sight.  I got my phone camara ready for a shot at the red light, but that wily guy slithered through the intersection & was gone in a flash…not unfamiliar behavior around these parts.

I’ve recently been engaged in my own private war with rats, so this encounter got me thinking. As you know, I have chickens (well, right now, one hen) & chickens, rats & humans have co-habitated for a long time.  A couple of months ago, there was no denying that this one hen was not the one consuming the immense volume of feed & water I was replenishing daily in the coop.  That very weekend, fat & happy with their lot & rapidly expanding extended families, those little (no, actually, very large & fat) grey rats started sauntering out in the late afternoon, casually chowing & slurping, 2,3,4,5…”What are those, Grandma?”  “Those are rats, honey – looks like they’ve moved into the Live Oak Avenue Coop Resort with all the relatives.”

From past experience, I know I have to have a strategy at Orchard Supply to avoid running into someone I know in the Pest & Poison aisle.  Aack!!…are you really going to kill something?  It’s appalling: I really do feel bad about it.  Even the ants.  But not bad enough to abandon my attack plan.  Three easy-to-set traps, guaranteed, peanut butter not included.  The rat clan really didn’t stand a chance.

Twelve rats, two days, & multiple plastic bags later (replete with surreptitious flinging of bags into a local park dumpster), I breathe a sigh of victory.  Hopefully the neighborhood cats can finish off the lingerers.

But then, the white rat appeared, & I thought, rats have a bad rap in our human world, & yes, I’m as guilty as the next guy in line at Orchard.  As with other so-called vermin, we assign them dark & sinister motives for the ways they negatively impact the daily rat race of our lives.  We hold them responsible for plagues (even though it was really the fleas). We’re disgusted by what we consider to be their innate sneaky & cunning behavior, & of course we all know people who seem to exhibit similar characteristics.  The grayer & larger they are, the more intense our aversion…e.g, that HUGE gross rat that startled me by slithering across my blanket as I cut class at Seabright beach during my first year at college was definitely a different species than the white bike-rider one (wasn’t it?); & those tiny little mice getting into the rice, while annoying, are definitely less creepy than their devious rat cousins (aren’t they?).

Don’t worry, I’m not planning to start a Save the Rats club.  But, in observing my own reactions & behavior (disgustingly noted above), it seems worth remembering that whatever we may think about them, these rats are just doing their best at living & providing for their families, just like we are, just like other vermin are, just like bunnies & dolphins & dogs & cats & polar bears & ants & chickens are.  Some people even have rats as pets! (..& by all accounts, they rival our favored pet varieties in all ways except: people think you’re a deviant if you have one.)

Thankfully, I think I’ve demonstrated my own lack of deviance with the mainstream of public opinion about rats.  Still, the image of that startlingly white rat mammal riding on the back of the tanned human mammal…well, I really wish I’d been able to to get that shot to share with you.

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9 Responses to A Rat On His Back

  1. Sister Nancy in Scotland says:

    Ah…yes! The knowing smile on my face as I read this turned into a wide grin as I finished! We have 4 hens so I guess the rat colony we have under our hen house is a multiple of yours! I think it runs down to the burn (stream) and includes a special tunnel up to our bird feeder too! The rats mingle with the moles and mice in a happy co-existence, but they all need to be alert… Because the local kestrel and buzzard pay regular visits to the hens too…
    When our feet begin to sink into the soft earth dislodged by the tunnels around the hen run, then Mark decides enough is enough! But his endeavours are always just temporary because these critters have whole fields around us within which to multiply and mass for their daily jaunt to the Newbigging hen house!

    Like you, I have shared that feeling of disgust at the rat and mild tolerance of the mouse… Or cute vole… Or sly weasel… (all of which live in, under, or around the house)…But my philosophy has been one of “if I don’t see them, I will tolerate them”… After reading your blog, perhaps I shall make a point of visiting them on their nocturnal outings to the hens… And see them for what the are: part of the same complex ecological chain we belong to…
    Thanks!

  2. Tammy says:

    I have the most bizarre thing occurring at our house right now. I have a large ceramic pot next to the outdoor fireplace. Every week, there is a dead rat in it. I have NO idea how they get in or why or where they come from. We simply dump it. I was thinking that maybe a feral cat is putting them there? or a bird?

  3. Terry says:

    I think I told you about my “non-deviant” response to the rat that jumped out at me from the compost pile. Afterwards, Mark began to reminisce about the white rat he had as a kid – I responded “Well, it wasn’t a Norway rat!” and he told me that it actually was an albino Norway rat. After reading your post here, I did a tiny bit of research and learned that not only are most white rats a strain of the Norway rat, their temperament (and therefore, suitability as pets) is related to their coat color. (see:http://www.ratbehavior.org/CoatColor.htm#CoatColor). I wonder if there is some biological basis for our tendency to sometimes vilify – or at least be creeped out by – certain animals. I have a short list of such animals, and rats are on it (and earwigs). Oh, and I also learned that white cats are kind of crazy.

  4. liveoaklinda says:

    this is a great link Terry – thanks! after I posted this last night, I was thinking that the difference between the white & the gray is a certain degree of domestication; this reference (& its links) make some interesting points in turn about the genetic links between fur color & tameness. now i want to know more about the white cats…

  5. Pat says:

    Content of the “Save the Rats” link was unexpected. Very good.

  6. liveoaklinda says:

    at first I thought it was just one of those sites that cut & paste your search words onto or into something…but then I realized that, no, one really could buy a t-shirt labeled “rat enthusiast”!

  7. lindaab says:

    We’ve been trying to trap some rats that have been pooping on our outdoor table (sniffing around for food I guess) and caught two birds instead. Not pretty. Gave it up

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