Indiana Animal Facts
Templeton the rat has been a permanent resident at Cope Environmental Center for a little over a year now. He is what is generally known as a “fancy rat”, more specifically the domesticated form of Rattus norvegicus, the brown rat. Templeton spends his days in the education center, and is cared for by the staff at Cope and our team of interns.
Contrary to popular belief, domesticated rats actually make great small pets, much like gerbils and guinea pigs. Although they have a reputation as being dirty and carrying diseases (which is common in wild rats but quite rare in pets, which are less likely than cats or dogs to catch and transmit viruses and parasites), rats are actually cleaner than cats. They are also significantly smarter than other small rodents and can even learn their own names and perform tricks. They are extremely social animals and will often become lonely if kept as a pet without a companion.
Rats, along with all rodents, are widely understood to have originated in Asia, although their first appearance in the fossil record is in both Asia and North America around the close of the Paleocene and beginning of the Eocene. These Brown rats, although commonly referred to as Norway rats, actually originated in Northern China or Mongolia and descended from Murids, which also gave rise to house mice, voles, and hamster. At some point in human history, thought to be thousands of years ago, rats began to live in close proximity to humans, taking up residence in houses, ships, and other structures in an association called commensalism.
Ecologically speaking rats are something of a double-edged sword. They have two major contributions to the world’s ecosystems. First, they serve as a large food source for various larger predators such as hawks, owls, and even some lizards. Secondly, they are integral to seed dispersal in certain ecosystems, however they are also responsible for a number of problems with the ecosystem. The common black rat has been responsible for the extinction of countless species of birds, reptiles, plants, and small mammals on various islands. They can also carry various deadly diseases and can be a big pain for farmers, as rats are responsible for damaging roughly 20% of the world’s food crop each year.
Fun facts about rats
- There is a popular myth that rats have flexible or collapsible skeletons. This is not true, though they can fit into some tight spaces
- Rats do smell stereoscopically and in a dark room a rat can tell whether food is on the left or right side of its nose within 50 thousandths of a second. In fact, studies have shown that in the brain of a rat, 90% of neurons in the olfactory bulb respond differently to smells coming from the left compared to those coming from the right.
- Some types of rats can swim for over a mile.
- In addition to balance, rats use expansion and contraction of blood vessels in their tails to regulate their temperature.
- Rat teeth never actually stop growing and must be ground down through chewing. They can gnaw through cinder-blocks, lead, and even aluminum sheeting.
- There are 56 known species of rats
Keep in mind if you are considering a pet rat
- Generally a large wire cage is best so the rat can climb up the sides. Ramps and multiple levels will also help occupy your new pets time.
- As a bare minimum for smaller rats the cage should have about two square feet of floor space.
- Avoid wire flooring, as it can cause health problems for your rat.
- You should choose a location in your home that is somewhat quiet while also close by the social activity.
- Provide bedding materials for your rat such as inkless paper, paper towels, or tissues. Aspen and other hardwood shavings are also find, however cedar and pine should be avoided.
- Most likely your rat will designate a “bathroom area” within the cage, which you should scoop out and replace daily. The rest of the cage should be cleaned roughly once a week.
- You should also place something in the cage that might be used a nest. This can be anything from an old shoe box to a jar turned on its side.
- Pelleted blocks are an ideal food for rats, as when fed mixed food they tend to pick out what they like and thus do not receive a well-balanced diet. However, you can also provide your rat with fresh food to avoid its growing bored with the pellets. Rats can eat whole grain pasta, small amounts of fruits and vegetables, yogurt, brown rice, the occasional bit of low-fat cooked meat, cheese, nuts, and seeds. Foods higher in fat (cheese, nuts, seeds, etc.) should be limited.
- As rats are very social animals, it is highly recommended that should you adopt a rat you also adopt at least one more. You should also hold and interact with your rat(s) every day.
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