April 23, 2014
Giant Rats On The Move
Even though the esteemed denizens of the Houses of Parliament are taking their Easter breaks, the UK press is still full of rat stories, especially at the tacky tabloid end of the spectrum. Yes, we are told, giant rats are everywhere and coming to get us all soon.
A while ago I wrote about an abandoned ship supposedly drifting towards Ireland with thousands of giant cannibal rats on board. Well, that ship has never appeared and is presumed lost, so that’s one rat invasion story that sank without trace. But what about this new “plague” of monster rodents munching their way round Britain, Europe and beyond? Just how big could they get?
In Sweden recently the biggest thing on the news was the capture of a rat that was 16 inches long (plus tail!) and weighed well over two pounds. After eating its way through wood and concrete, the beast, nicknamed “Ratzilla,” defied normal attempts at trapping it and terrified the family’s cat, Enok — although it has to be said that Enok does look a bit of a sissy pussycat in his mugshot. Ratzilla was eventually caught in a supersize trap.
Ratzilla is a mouse compared to the 11 pound monsters reportedly found in Tehran, the capital of Iran. Their rat problem is enormous with an estimated 25 million (far more than the human population) roaming the streets. Many are bigger than the city’s cats. A rat war is going down in Tehran. Snipers have been deployed to zap the rats in what officials call a 24/7 battle.
Over here in Britain, cities like Liverpool and Birmingham are reporting huge numbers of rats taking over. Not only are these animals larger and more numerous than ever, they are becoming harder to kill. It seems they are proving more and more resistant to poison and larger doses are needed to finish them off. The old method – the use of blood-thinning Warfarin – is no good any more. The latest poison, bromadiolone, is not strong enough. So, pest controllers are seeking permission to use the most modern, “third generation” rat killers that need special licenses. The city rats are apparently growing fat on the leftovers from the thousands of fast food takeaway joints adorning our city streets.
Of course the press like to play up these stories and have gone on about the potential for rats to become so large, so resistant to control, and so deadly that they could eventually take over the planet, never mind Birmingham. Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz from the University of Leicester has proposed that they could grow as large as the world’s current largest rodent, the South American capybara, which can weigh as much as the average British male – and that’s before it starts eating kebabs, quarter-pounders, curries, fish and chips, or any other takeaway for that matter.
But even the capybara-sized super-rat of the future will be nothing compared to the largest rodent that ever lived. Back in 2008, an amateur palaeontologist in Uruguay found the skull of what became known as Joesephoartigasia monesi – a rodent the size of a bull. This monster had a 12-inch long skull with huge teeth, presumably for fending off prehistoric carnivores. Scientists estimated its weight at 2,200 pounds. That’s a hell of a rat and it would take an industrial sized trap or a lot of super-poison to fell one of those. So I suppose when it comes to giant rats, we ain’t seen nothing yet. But for now, at least, it looks like those things just keep on growing. When J.monesi heads into town, I’ll be heading on out.
Image Credit: Thinkstock