The Mutant Giant Rat Media Flap

This is normally the sort of thing I try to ignore, but the papers and online media sites recently seem to be more full than usual of stories about giant rats, poison-immune rats, mutant radioactive rats with glowing eyes… well, maybe not that last one but you get the idea. It is the summer silly season, after all.

We have a subscription to Fortean Times because it covers a lot of subjects which interest us, and as a hardline sceptic it offers me plenty at which to point and laugh. (Seriously – if you’re ever a bit bored, have a read of the “It Happened to Me!” column where readers send in their supposedly paranormal experiences, and see how many you can ascribe to alcohol, drugs, sleep paralysis or pareidolia. Hint: all of them. I’m not saying that there’s nothing “out there” – but often there is a sensible explanation.) It also gathers news stories from around the world on a range of interesting subjects, and in this month’s issue there is a two page spread on “super-rats” (FT371, pp16-17). Some of the stories are positive, or at least not overtly scaremongering – a short item about Gambian pouched rats being trained to sniff out land mines, for example.

The first one to annoy me is a story from Stockholm, where a rat nicknamed Ratzilla had reportedly “invaded” a family’s house and was eventually killed by a heavy duty trap. The story claims the family cat refused to go in the kitchen while the rat was there. The published photo shows a rat which does indeed look huge. But note the perspective on the photo – it is being held at arm’s length, a good deal nearer the camera than the torso of the person holding it, so of course it looks big. This is a common trick with these scare stories.

The rat is described as weighing a kilo, which admittedly is on the big side, but not unheard of. The measurement given – 39.5cm not including the tail – is again on the big side but was presumably taken after the vicious mutant killing machine was already dead and could be stretched out to get the biggest measurement possible. Out of interest I just measured Cromarty – body length 24cm, tail 23cm. He’s a fully grown buck but smaller than most so that’s not in any way an average; still, I can’t escape the suspicion that these news reports are exaggerated for effect.

The next story is of a palaeobiologist at Leicester University claiming that “[r]ats could grow to the size of sheep or even bigger as they evolve to fill vacant ecological niches”. It continues “… given enough time, rats could grow to be the size of the capybara… which can reach 80kg”. There are many ifs in the quotes, and of course the key phrase “given enough time”, but how many people would notice that on a casual reading? How many people glancing at this sort of news story have any grasp of evolutionary theory? I barely get the basics, and I actively try to read about and understand it because it fascinates me. But there are grown adults out there still repeating the “If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys” trope because they simply don’t (or don’t want to) accept that this stuff happens.

And then we move on to Birmingham and its rat infestation. Rats as wide as house bricks, more than 2ft long from nose to tail tip. More than 5100 alerts between April 2013 and April 2014. Massive mutant rats reported in Bradford, Durham, Liverpool and Dublin. A man photographed his Jack Russell terrier holding in its mouth a dead rat “almost as big as itself”. Well, JRs aren’t the biggest dogs, are they? If it had been a labrador that would have been interesting.

The blame is placed on less frequent rubbish collections and the increase in food waste bins, referred to as “slop buckets” which gives the impression they are open vessels. We have food waste bins, and the lids can be locked to prevent animals from getting into them. I often walk into town and see discarded food on the pavement – the other day I saw an open packet of crisps, almost full. If we had a rat problem that would have gone very fast. Why are we not blaming people for making a mess? The half-eaten kebab thrown on the pavement, the fly-tipped waste in alleys and on waste ground? Oh yes, because that would mean actually taking some responsibility for our own actions, and it’s much easier to blame the rats.

One last thing, about the size of these supposed giant rats. I have a theory. Most people have never seen a rat. Despite all the hype and panic, most people probably never will. They think rats are just a little bit bigger than mice. So if they actually see a fully grown rat, it is so much bigger than they expect that they freak out and decide it must be a mutant giant radioactive etc. etc.

Rats are much, much bigger than mice. Pest controllers should know this, which is why it’s so depressing to see them over estimating the size of the animals too. Maybe it’s for effect – “I do such a dangerous job, me!” Maybe it’s just that when something is moving, at speed, away from us it’s notoriously hard to gauge its size with any accuracy. You only have to go back to Fortean Times and the various stories over the years about big cats roaming the British countryside to see that. And it’s in our nature to exaggerate, especially with something scary, creepy or potentially dangerous.

Let’s finish on a positive note. Apopo trains pouched rats to save lives – some detect landmines, others are trained to detect tuberculosis. Check out their website for the amazing work they do, and maybe even sponsor a hero rat.

 

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A little sad news

Our little old lady Pinch has left us today.SONY DSC

She had been on her own since her friend Bitesize left us in January, but adapted well and enjoyed coming out for fruit pudding and scritches every evening. Recently she had been slowing down and eating less, but with nothing specific that we could ascribe to anything other than old age we carried on – giving her supplements where possible and making sure she had access to tasty foods to keep her interested.

Today at a vet visit it became clear that she had a number of intestinal tumours. I made the decision to bring her home and try to keep her comfy but as it was she decided to leave us shortly afterwards. J and I will get her a suitable pot and plant at the weekend.

Run free at the Bridge, Pinch. We will miss you but your friends Bitesize and Hawkeye will be pleased to see you.

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Mission: Impossible

“Cromarty, come here – I want to get a picture of your whiskers – they’re so long and handsome.”

"Get lost."

“Get lost.”

“Oh, come on. Just a couple of quick photos.”

"Is there a treat in it for me?"

“Is there a treat in it for me?”

“You already had apple and banana pudding, remember? You owe me a photo or two.”

*sigh* "Ok, I suppose. How's this angle?"

*sigh* “Ok, I suppose. How’s this angle?”

“Pretty good. I don’t suppose you can persuade your brother to co-operate too, can you?”

"There you go. That's your lot, human. It's dinner time."

“There you go. That’s your lot, human. It’s dinner time.”

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A busy couple of weeks

The ratties have been keeping us busy lately. We’ve had the two big boys on antibiotics for weeks trying to get rid of their sniffles – Fitzroy is a lot better but Cromarty is still sneezy and I’m wondering if it is actually allergy-related. The pollen count has been ridiculous this year, J and I have both had worse hayfever than usual as have many other people, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if rats with their delicate respiratory systems had similar trouble. I may try him with some children’s liquid anti-histamine and see if that helps.

Yesterday was the inaugural show of the Heart of England Rat Club, as as it wasn’t too far away from us and involved a lot of people we know, we went along. I had planned to take Cromarty and Fitzroy as shoulder rats but with the sniffles that was out of the question.

I’d also thought about putting Susan in the Pets class but with amazing timing she sprouted two small lumps at the start of the week, which put paid to that idea. Thankfully the vets at the practice we use are all very no-nonsense about these things and after a check-up on Tuesday to make sure she was otherwise in good health, they whipped both lumps off in Wednesday. She is absolutely fine, healing beautifully and went back in the main cage on Thursday evening because she was giving me evils and chewing the bars of the hospital cage. But of course I couldn’t show her, or even take her as a shoulder rat. We took Scarecrow and Sirocco as shoulder rats and they were very well behaved, so for the next show in  August I may put Scarecrow in Pets and see how she does.

It was also a good chance to catch up with a few people we haven’t seen in a while, and to cuddle some lovely rats. And we won some raffle prizes! So all in all, a good day.

And no, we haven’t put any more decals up yet.

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A decal, at last

You may remember that some months ago I bought some Banksy-style decals to decorate the rat room. Since then we have said at regular intervals (usually during or after cage cleaning) “We really must get those decals up.” Finally we have managed to put one up. Yes, just one. So now we say “We really must get the rest of those decals up.”

Here it is:

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The wallpaper strip goes rather well with the street art decal. The decal was harder than expected to put up as it’s not a print on clear vinyl as I thought it would be – the black is all there is so the pieces all need to stick separately, so it was quite fiddly. And that is why there’s still only one up…

While I was in there with the camera I took a few rat pictures too. Mostly everyone was asleep, but a few were intrigued enough to come and nose about.

Misty - she has now completely roaned out and it's hard to remember that she used to have buff-coloured markings.

Misty – she has now completely roaned out and it’s hard to remember that she used to have buff-coloured markings.

Biscay and Boots stayed firmly in their sputnik.

Biscay and Boots stayed firmly in their sputnik.

 

Scarecrow and Susan woke up and did the cute peeping-out-of-hammock thing...

Scarecrow and Susan woke up and did the cute peeping-out-of-hammock thing…

... then got up to see what was going on...

… then got up to see what was going on…

... and thought about having a go at escape, as the door was open.

… and thought about having a go at escape, as the door was open.

 

Ragweed was determined to pretend none of this was happening. She's lying on Sam, who did eventually get up to say hello.

Ragweed was determined to pretend none of this was happening. She’s lying on Sam, who did eventually get up to say hello.

Sirocco was another one who wasn't getting out of bed for anything.

Sirocco was another one who wasn’t getting out of bed for anything.

This was as much as I saw of the boys:

"Go wai. Is sleepytimes."

“Go wai. Is sleepytimes.”

And I didn’t see Pinch at all!

 

 

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A new plant for Cora

Things have mostly been quiet on the rat front here – since my last post, Sirocco has had some arguments with the bigger girls but they seem to have sorted themselves out, and Fitzroy and Cromarty have both been sniffly and are now on antibiotics, but other than that there’s been no real news.

By contrast, it’s been all go over at the gardening blog! It’s that time of year when we are concentrating on getting the garden just right so we can sit and enjoy it over the summer. It does cross over into the rat world of course as regulars will know – when our ratties pass we bury them under a nice plant. Occasionally (well, fairly often actually) the plants don’t survive for one reason or another, and have to be replaced. Cora left us over two years ago and was placed in a terracotta pot with a patio rose – a very pretty one – but after two summers of beautiful flowers, something got at the rose and it was eaten to nothing last year.

Yesterday we went out plant-buying and found some very nice hebes, so Cora now has a smart new plant:

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Na na na na na na na na RATMAAAAAN!

So I treated myself to this little guy. He came up on one of those snap sales on Facebook – you know, the “first person to comment ‘Sold’ gets me” sort of sales, and I jumped.

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Isn’t he adorable? He was made by an acquaintance who used to make felties but has had to give up, sadly. The rabbits she made were so realistic it was amazing. So, you can see why I couldn’t resist Ratman!

In other news, it’s been eventful here but I think we are settling down again. Sirocco has finally been removed from her sisters and Biscay, and put back with the four bigger girls – she was too keen to be alpha over Biscay and though he knew he should be alpha and was trying to put her in her place he’s really too much of a softie. The big girls, on the other hand, have an established hierarchy and she has just had to fit in somewhere near the bottom – they will not stand any nonsense from her, and she knows that. So everyone has sorted themselves out.

The downside has been that Biscay became very sniffly, possibly triggered in part by stress. We have had him on antibiotics since Tuesday but improvement has been slow. This morning he’s better than he has been for some days so I’m hopeful that we’ve turned a corner. No sooner had we started treating his sniffles than he managed to hurt one back foot and was limping around in a melodramatic fashion. Still, he was already on an anti-inflammatory as well as the ABs so that helped.

Pinch is still with us but is also getting a bit wheezy so it will be back on the ABs for her today. Poor thing. She still enjoys coming out for her fruit pudding every evening but we have had to put a little wooden block by the cage door as she was starting to have difficulty getting out of the cage. She is definitely slowing down and showing her age but seems determined to keep going at the moment.

The big boys are fine, and Cromarty seems to get more cuddly and affectionate by the day. Fitzroy still isn’t all that bothered, but Cromarty (and Biscay, as it happens) will now lick my fingers while I’m giving scritches and fussings. I wish we knew how old they are, though.

Hoping you and yours are all well and happy.

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