Scientific name: Rattus rattus
Country: Worldwide, originally Malaysia.
Continent: Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa, South America, Central and North America.
Diet: They eat a wide variety of plant and animal matter, although they prefer grain. At the Zoo, they receive a dry rodent mix and some fruit and vegetables.
Food & feeding: Omnivore
Habitats: All (in association with humans).
Conservation status: Not threatened
Relatives: Capybara, grey squirrel, hamster, brown rat.
Description: Despite its name it can be found in several colour forms, usually black to light brown with a lighter underside. Typically, they are about 20 cm long, with additional 20 cm of tail. The whiskers are long and sensitive. Although people usually think that a rat has a bare tail, it actually has a small amount of soft fur covering the almost scaly skin on the tail.
Lifestyle: Black rats have long lived in association with humans. They are active mainly at dusk and at night, using regular runways and routes in their search for food in and around houses in villages and cities. Their powerful front teeth are used in gnawing, often gaining access to stored food. The long slender tail helps with balance when climbing.
Family & friends: Black rats are territorial and social animals. They live in loose communities sharing a home range containing a dominant male alongside several subdominant males and two or three equally ranking females.
Keeping in touch: Scent is an important part of the life of a rat. Males in particular mark their home ranges with strong-smelling urine.
Growing up: In a suitable environment, they will breed throughout the year, with a female producing up to six litters of average eight young. The young can breed for themselves at the tender age of two to three months. This means that in a single year, one pair of black rats could give rise to several million descendants. Only a lack of food and space prevent rats from achieving such a huge population increase. Surprisingly, despite their lifestyle, black rats can live up to four years of age.
Conservation news: Black rats certainly are not at risk of becoming extinct. In fact, because they have been accidentally introduced by humans to so many places, including remote oceanic islands that previously had no mammals at all, rats, by eating native creatures and competing with them for food have contributed to the endangerment or extinction of many species.
Rat-borne diseases are thought to have taken more human lives in the last ten centuries than all the wars and revolutions ever fought. the bubonic plague, that caused the black death in Europe, was spread mainly by fleas living on black rats.