Brown Rat, Creative Commons photo by Jean-Jacques Boujot

Brown Rat, Creative Commons photo by Jean-Jacques Boujot

Can you guess the nation’s most rat-infested cities? You might be surprised to discover Los Angeles ranks number 2.

But it’s really our neighbors far eastward in New York who are most famous for living with rodent neighbors. I recently watched a video of a determined New York brown rat dragging a slice of pizza down the stairs into a subway station. Afterward, other rat videos ensued: Pita Rat, Cannibal Rat, and Selfie Rat – all enjoyed for their similar delightful, viral quality.


For those interested about how rats adapted to city life, Robert Sullivan’s book Rats is highly recommended reading.

Two main species of rats, Rattus norvegicus (brown rat) and Rattus rattus (black rat) arrived to the United States from Europe during the 16-18th centuries. The city rats that you see are the brown rat, which have outcompeted the black rat throughout history.

Despite their negative reputation, rats are extremely intelligent, sociable, and altruistic little creatures. There is a reason why they are so prevalent and have survived for centuries in urban environments and why they are used in scientific testing. In addition, the brown rat is the same species that has been bred and used as laboratory rats and as pet rats.

Due to their adaptability and many centuries of cohabiting with human civilizations and migrations, it’s difficult to identify a rat’s “natural habitat”. Rats live all over the world in a wide variety of environments: forests, tropical islands, plains, agricultural fields, swamps, rivers, cities and more. The brown rat and black rat are believed to have originated from woodlands in Asia. There are other rat species that actually have specialized habitats and limited geographical ranges such as Rattus argentiventer (Ricefield Rat), which lives in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia.

All things considered, these adaptable rodents have come to not only survive in nature, but also thrive within the makings of human infrastructure. So one must consider, where there are humans, there shall always be rats!



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