Gloucester County Nature: Rats

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Sep 10, 2014 in Rat News | Subscribe

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By Karl Anderson

for the Gloucester County Nature Club

Did Hurricane Sandy drown all the rats that lived in the New York City subways? Well, no doubt it killed many of them. But have no fear, the rats will reestablish their population.

A female brown rat can give birth to as many as 14 babies at a time, and those young will be able to breed by the time they are five weeks old. At which time the mother rat can breed again, up to five times a year.

As the saying goes, “just do the math … “

Our brown rats, also called Norway rats, arrived in Europe in the 16th century. They are originally from Asia, and they may have arrived on ships coming from Black Sea ports.

They have been with us ever since. They live and thrive wherever there are humans to provide food, which can be almost anything that humans eat.

Their normal homes are subterranean burrows they dig themselves, but the small dark spaces in and around human habitations and yes, sewers and subways, will do nicely.

Brown rats in New Jersey don’t often form truly wild populations — though I once visited a small woodland in a North Jersey town where the rats seemed to dominate the forest floor, foraging for food and making burrows in broad daylight. The local squirrels seemed to be staying in the trees. I didn’t hang around long enough to see if this was a real division of territory, so I don’t know if a squirrel that ventured on the ground would have been driven aloft by the rats. Rats can climb, but are not very good at it.

One hears of “rats as big as cats” — but that’s a stretch. A really, really big male rat might have a body 10 inches long, and a tail about the same, and weigh almost two pounds. A cat weighs, on average, about 10 pounds. But it’s easy to understand that somebody suddenly meeting a large rat could overestimate the size of the animal.

And some of those “cat-sized rat” reports may refer to misidentified opossums or muskrats.

I once was strolling along the waterfront in Hudson County, with a young lady who had been, let’s say, gently reared. So she says “Oh, what’s that cute little brown animal running along the water’s edge?”

I broke the news to her. She took it well.

But I have known a few pet rats that really were rather cute. There are breeds that have been developed as pets, and if you really want to have a rodent for a pet, I think that a rat is the way to go.

They are big enough to handle, can be trained, and enjoy being petted. They are also very clean; like cats, they spend a lot of time grooming themselves.

But alas, they don’t live very long, only about two years or three at the most — which is about the same as a hamster but more than a mouse.

For information about the Gloucester County Nature Club, see

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