A convincing case for the ultimate survival of one of man’s symbiotic worst nightmares.
Toronto-based freelance writer Langton spent years building an impressive dossier on the rat family, including the tree-climbing black rat native to Asia and its larger cousin, the brown rat, which patrols city, suburb, field and farm in Europe and North America. Langton’s take on the life and times of the rat gets immediately the point of the title: When it comes to diet, rats know few limitations, and the same is almost true for reproduction. Given an optimum environment—steady food supply minus unusual threats or predation—a single female rat with her short litter-rearing cycle, the author suggests, could account for multigenerational offspring exceeding 100,000 in her meager three-year average lifetime. Above and beyond the physical attributes evolution has bestowed, which include relatively weak eyesight but a sense of smell any dog would be proud to possess, are a set of canny instincts and habits that spell survival, usually in the close company of the rat’s unwilling life partner, humans, but also in extreme environments. Example: It took months for a posse of scientists armed with traps, poisons and a pack of dogs to eliminate one rat accidentally set free on a tiny, uninhabited South Pacific island. Plenty of practical hints here as well for those with a problem: Rats easily recognize and shun traps and avoid suspicious tasting foods—even developing resistance to poisons.
Grimly fascinating facts not likely to be found on the Nature Channel.