5 Reasons Rats Are Way Scarier Than You Think
Rats are kind of creepy and gross, but they're not all that bad: They make fine test subjects, decent pets and rather excellent drug wizards. Considering all that, people with a serious rat phobia seem relatively silly -- all shrieking and gathering up their skirts atop the nearest chair in response to a measly little rodent. But it turns out that those of us who scoff at a rat sighting are essentially the randy teenagers boning right beside Crystal Lake while loudly insisting that Chad, the dashing lead, should "stop being so uptight, man! Nothing is safer than having unprotected sex right next to this machete pile!"
You Can't Keep Them Out
It's a classic movie monster trope: No place is safe from the hellspawn. From the inexplicable, leisurely teleportation of Jason to the omnipresence of Freddy's dream invasion, any movie monster worth its salt has a way to get at you, wherever you are. After all, it wouldn't make for a terribly terrifying experience if every movie ended when you got inside and locked the door.
Rats are no different: No matter how sealed up you think your dwelling is, be assured the rats will find their way in if they want to. They can get in through almost any sort of vent, and you can't just throw something in there to block their path. One study found that small rats think nothing of lifting barriers of over a pound to explore a new environment or even just to get to a type of flooring that they like better. They can also squeeze their bodies through holes no bigger than a quarter. They're basically the T-1000s of nature: You slam the wire-mesh fence shut on them, and they just ooze right through it.
Another preferred rat highway is the inside of your pipes, as small as 1.5 inches in diameter. Rats also happen to be champion swimmers. Combine these two things and you have an animal that can and does enter your house through your toilet. That is a real thing that really happens, and coincidentally, we will be pooping into a modest but secure floor safe from now on.
By now, of course, you've run to cover every single tiny opening in your house to keep the unceasing, steady advance of the rats at bay. But that's cool by the rats, friend; they can always just chew directly through your walls.
God, with his famously twisted sense of humor, decided to give rats inordinately strong jaw muscles, which are positioned in such a way on their skulls as to make them even more effective. So while rabbits enjoy a good piece of wood, rats have no problem going to town on brick, cement or lead. That's probably because the enamel of rat incisors is harder than platinum and even iron. In fact, because a rat's teeth never stop growing, even through their own skull, they actually have to eat your house, or die.
You Can't Avoid Them
One of the most disconcerting aspects of a good movie monster is the implied threat of expansion: The aliens from Aliens are rabid breeders that use dudes like a screaming womb, the thing from The Thing multiplied like an amoeba made out of meat and teeth and pretty much any nebulous force from a Stephen King novel is solely out to turn some quaint small town in Maine into a murder cult.
That's right. Stephen King has 500 dollars from all this shit.
Rats are no slackers on the multiplication front: Two rats alone can have up to 6,000 babies before they die at age 2 or 3. Of course, those babies are also breeding, starting at only 3 months of age. And they don't all disperse, seeking their little rat fortunes and pursuing tiny rodent scholarships out in the world; if there's plenty of food, they'll stick around and take over an entire city. For example: Many areas that scaled back their pest control for financial reasons during the recession saw an astonishing boom in the rat population.
There are now thought to be around 80 million rats in Britain, a rise of more than 200 percent since 2007. (Note: These are 2009 numbers; 2011 numbers are written entirely in rat cuneiform, and sadly, we cannot translate them.) Even with modern pest-control methods, it's estimated that there is at least one rat per person in major cities like New York. In fact "a rat per person" is actually an official government means of estimating how many there are in a given place, and not just the worst campaign promise we've ever heard.
You Can't Find Them
Movie monsters are masters of stealth: They either strike from the shadows, or else hide in plain sight. Cthulhu is sunk beneath the ancient seas, Freddy exists as an abstract concept in the dreamscape and the Predator could literally turn invisible. They wouldn't be great monsters if you could just look them up in the phone book to leave bags of flaming poo on their doorsteps, would they?
Likewise, it is virtually impossible to find a rat. We don't mean that in a "this would be really hard for you to do over a weekend" sense; we mean that in a "horde of trained specialists equipped with the latest technology took an entire season to find one rat" sense. A group of scientists, hoping to learn more about rats' movements, took one lone rodent to a remote island that otherwise had none. They put a tracking collar on him and spent four weeks learning his favorite spots to sleep, where he ate, the routes he used, everything.
Despite laying over three dozen traps, calling in two dogs trained exclusively for the job and digging 15 "tracking tunnels," the researchers couldn't nab one little rat. They couldn't even get close. Even worse, at some point the rat actually managed to lose or break his tracking device, so they had no idea where he was anymore. When they eventually found Rat McClane, 18 weeks later, it was on an entirely different island over a quarter of a mile away. Until then, we had no idea rats could even swim that far.
So hey, you saw a rat in your place? Good luck finding it, when all the collective forces of technology and science have tested their mettle against it and were found wanting. But no, we're sure you and your "tie a tiny lasso and try to throw it around him" approach will have no difficulty eradicating that pest.
Just one tiny problem: Even if you catch it ...
You Can't Kill Them
This one's a no-brainer: A monster is only scary if it is somehow harder to kill than a normal person. Maybe it just preys on the defenseless, like the killers from Scream, or maybe it possesses a supernatural constitution, like literally every other, significantly cooler movie monster. Seriously, Scream, your monster was Matthew Lillard? On a scale of "one to lame," that's like eight. Eight lames.
But wait, how does this apply to rats? They're tiny little rodents. We kill them with a spring and a bit of metal. Rats aren't invincible ... right? Oh God, please tell us that's right, next sentence ...
Ha ha, not even close, pussies! In certain ways, rats are god damn immortal. For instance, what's the most surefire way you can think of to kill a rat? Poison, right? Well, to start with, rats only eat a small amount of any new food source at first, to make sure it doesn't make them ill. That's right: They caught on. They know you're trying to kill them, and are taking measures to correct that ... mistake.
On top of which, humanity is starting to come up against an entirely new strain of rat, something scientists are comfortingly calling "genetically mutated super rats," which are immune to almost every type of poison.
Dang! You know shit is getting real when even famously stoic science starts naming their new species like comic book villains.
They Want Your Blood
The most frightening aspect of any movie monster is its insatiable blood lust. Zombies, vampires, wolfmen and even Jaws are all motivated by one simple, horrifying thing: They think we're delicious.
And so do rats.
Sure, we all know that rats will take a few bites from corpses. (Thanks, CSI! That and "semen on everything." That's all we took away from your show.) But that's just because they're scavengers, right? Rats aren't picky when it comes to their food sources, everybody knows that. But that's not entirely true. There is one thing rats seem to love more than anything else, and given the chance they will risk everything to get it again and again: your blood.
They're basically a bunch of furry little vampires that live in your walls. A 22-year study of urban rat bites found that the most common time to be bitten was between midnight and 8 a.m., while sleeping peacefully in your own bed, unaware that a huge, diseased rodent was chewing on your face. Oh, and that's not hyperbole, either: Rats most commonly go for the face and hands.
But this is like spiders, right? They might bite you once or twice, but it's either in self-defense or desperation. It's not like they routinely prey on human bei- of fucking course it's like that. Haven't you been paying attention to this article? Once someone is bitten by a rat, their chances of being bitten again dramatically increase.
But ... but why? If it's not defense, and there's plenty of other food, why on earth would they do it?
We actually told you the answer already. It's just that the part of your brain responsible for keeping anxiety in check told you it was a joke. Rats will repeatedly attack the same victim because they seriously and literally want your blood.
In 1945, Professor C.P. Richter did a study to see what exactly attracted rats to humans. He gave a group of rats access to a large quantity of blood, and found that within 24 hours they had consumed it all, even though it was four times as much "food" as they would normally eat in a day. Richter's actual, word for word scientific conclusion: "[Rats can develop] a real craving for fresh human blood."
And, it bears repeating, these are the things that might be climbing up your toilet right at this very moment. Soooo ... might be time to invest in a good, solid, waterproof safe, eh?