Dead Love: Rats!

I just saw my first rat (family: Muridae, genus: Rattus) this trip. It was scuttling along the tracks in the NY underground. I’m surprised I haven’t seen more of them. Nobody knows how many rats there are in New York; estimates range from hundreds of thousands to millions. True rats (black rats and brown rats) supposedly originated in Asia and have spread throughout the world because they are extraordinarily intelligent and opportunistic and their behavior mirrors mankind’s in a way that makes human settlement especially beneficial to rat communities. These traits also make the clever creatures very useful for lab testing, and it makes the descendants of the lab-testing variety—commonly brown rats—excellent pets.

Their most regrettable association, however, is with the fleas they carry, which are vectors for a wide range of horrible diseases. Rats are considered vermin, a category into which humans dump animals they don’t like. Plants people dislike are called weeds. People that other humans don’t like are called … see where this leads?

I actually like rats in the same way that I like squirrels, and I learned scads about them from Robert Sullivan’s book: Rats, which is one of my all time favorite accounts of animal behavior. This book is where I discovered that rats can actually chew through concrete. So that’s where those irregular holes around the sewer covers came from!

And for those who see rats as a horror or want to contemplate them from that angle, look back at a couple of films inspired by Stephen Gilbert’s Ratman’s Notebooks: Willard and Ben. The song by the same name is possibly one of the most touching rat ballads ever written.

—Erin Orison, DEAD LOVE/The Daily Slice

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