Posted by: Mark | September 12, 2014


Here’s another Halloween-related post about everyone’s least favorite rodent, the rat. Information from Robert Sullivan’s Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants (2004).

Queen Victoria’s rat catcher was named Jack Black. He didn’t star in Kung Fu Panda but did start a fad among Victorians of keeping pet rats as pets. Beatrice Potter is said to have bought a rat directly from Jack. Sullivan theorizes that the most common strand of laboratory rats are descended from his rats.

26% of electric cable breaks and 18% of phone cable breaks are said to be caused by rats. Estimated that 25% of fires of unknown causes are actually caused by rats. One estimate is that one third of food production is destroyed by rats.

Rats have sex up to 20 times a day. If no females are available, male rats have sex with each other.

Rats are thigmophilic – they love to touch things

By 1926, Norway rats (not really from Norway) were living in every U.S. state, the last holdout was Montana which is hard for them to colonize. Alberta calls itself a rat-free province but this is probably not entirely true (a mayor of an Albertan city said that he would eat any rat found in town. He recanted when presented with a basketful). The Norway rat is believed to have come to New York around the time of the Revolution and moved outward.

The Bubonic Plague came to San Francisco near the turn of the 20th century but was covered up by politicians and business leaders (a la Jaws). Health officials reporting the plague were fired or threatened with arrest. Eventually it was contained but the plague spread throughout the American southwest. Today there are more rodents infested with bubonic plague in America than were infected during the height of the plague years in Europe.

Shiro Ishii, a Japanese general during WWII, led Unit 731. Tried to use the bubonic plague as a weapon. Tried to drop the bacteria from airplanes but they died by the time they hit ground. Infected fleas and put them in clay bombs to drop from planes; 80% survived. After a Japanese flew over the Chinese city of Changde, people began dying of the plague. Ishii was never tried for war crimes. He turned his medical records to the U.S. and died a respected man of medicine.

Soviets copied Ishii’s techniques. The U.S. did as well. In April 1950, two navy ships sprayed Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News with Bacillus globigii, a bacteria thought to be harmless. Congress was not informed. San Francisco was also exposed, as were New York City subways. Soldiers out of uniform dropped lightbulbs full of Bacillus globigii and later came to test the infection rate in the air. One of the agents later bragged about lying to a man in the subway about the plastic carrying case for the light bulbs, telling him they were available in any hardware store. Results of the study are still classified.

Chickens are not susceptible to the plague. Scientists at the Pasteur Institute injected live plague bacteria into a chicken to study its effects. Naturally, the chicken escaped and was found by a local. He cooked and ate it with his family. They suffered no ill effects but the consequences of eating plague-infected poultry is probably not conclusive until further studies.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: