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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The black rat is nocturnal, although it may become more active in the day in undisturbed areas (4). It is an omnivore, but tends to prefer plant matter (4) such as fruits and seeds, although it will also feed on insects, carrion, refuse and faeces (2). On Lundy Island these rats feed on crabs along the shore (4). This rat lives in groups called 'packs', consisting of several males and two or more dominant females (4). They are skilled climbers and can also swim well (2). Nests are constructed from grass and twigs, often in roof spaces, a habit which earned the species the further common name of 'roof rat' (2). Breeding takes place between March and November; 3 to 5 litters can be produced in a year, each litter containing 1-16 young (although the average is 7). A single female can therefore produce a huge number of offspring; 56 young were recorded on a London ship for a single female (4). At 12-16 weeks of age, females are capable of breeding; they are also able to conceive whilst still suckling the previous litter, which further maximises their reproductive capability (1).Maximum lifespan in the wild is less than 18 months; populations have very high mortality rates, mainly as a result of widespread pest control measures (4). The black rat is a notorious pest, and was the host of the fleas that carried bubonic plague (2). It also carries a host of other diseases and is damaging to property and food stores (1).
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Description

Also known as the ship rat (2), the black rat was introduced to Britain with the Romans (4). Generally smaller than the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), the black rat is typically a uniform black to tawny brown colour, with lighter underparts (1). The tail, which is longer than the head and body, is hairless, and is used for balance (2).
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Distribution

Range Description

Originally an Indomalayan species, Rattus rattus was widely introduced across the globe as a result of human activities. In Europe, it has been present since ancient times, and is found in most countries. The species is widespread and common throughout the Mediterranean region. The list of countries of occurrence where the species is introduced is incomplete.

Still found throughout south-east Asia; includes a complex of at least four distinct species; Rattus rattus sensu strictu originally from Western India and Pakistan, spread worldwide thence.
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"
Global Distribution

South Asia, China. Introduced to all parts of the world.

Western Ghats Distribution

INDIA Gujarat: Dangs: Ahwa: Valod; Karnataka:? Kerala: Idukki: Eravikulam NP; Palakkad: Thiruvazhamkunnu Maharashtra: Pune: Manjri, Pashan Tamil Nadu

Known Presence in Protected Areas

Kerala; Eravikulam NP, Periyar Tiger Reserve. Tamil Nadu; Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary Maharashtra: Chandoli National Park, Nagrhole National Park, Goa; Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary,

"
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Distribution in Egypt

Widespread.

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Geographic Range

Rattus rattus, is found on all continents of the earth. Although the species is believed to be native to India and possibly other Indo-Malayan countries, it has been introduced through human travel overseas to all continents. It is most common in coastal areas because it is a rodent that flourishes in areas inhabited by humans as well as on large ships. For this reason, these animals are often called ship rats. Some other common names for this species include house rat, black rat, and roof rat. Rattus rattus thrives in tropical regions but has been largely driven out of more temperate regions by Noway rats, R. norvegicus. Norway rats, are closely related to black rats, but are more successful in colder climates. However, some data show that R. rattus has been able to adapt to more extreme cold and harsh climate conditions.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); palearctic (Introduced ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Introduced ); neotropical (Introduced ); australian (Introduced ); antarctica (Introduced ); oceanic islands (Introduced )

Other Geographic Terms: cosmopolitan

  • Pye, Swain, and Seppelt, 1999. Distribution and habitat use of the feral black rat (Rattus rattus) on subantarctic Macquarie Island. Journal of Zoology, 247: 429-438.
  • Grzimek, B. 2003. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia: Mammals. Pp. 126-128 in N Schlager, D Olendorf, M McDade, eds. Order: Rodentia, Vol. 16, 2nd Edition. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.
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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: Native to the Indian Peninsula; introduced worldwide in the temperate zone and parts of the tropical and subantarctic zones (Musser and Carleton, in Wilson and Reeder 2005).

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Range

This species was once widespread throughout Britain until the brown rat was introduced (4). It originates from Asia, and today is widely distributed around the globe (4). It has been restricted to largely transient populations in Southwark, London and Avonmouth since 1884, and has undergone a drastic decline in range since the 1950s (4). It also persists on Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel and the Shaint Islands in the Outer Hebrides (4).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Rattus rattus is a medium sized rat with relatively large ears and a tail that is nearly always longer than the body. Individuals weigh between 70 and 300 g, and are between 16 and 22 cm in head and body length and a tail length of 19 cm or longer. Males are longer and heavier than are females.

Many members of the species are black in color with a lighter colored ventral belly. The species is often divided into subspecies based upon color patterns which can occur in any combination of black, white, grey, and agouti.

The skull and nasal bones are relatively narrow. One of the main ways to differentiate between R. rattus and R. norvegicus is that R. rattus has a finer covering of hair, a lighter skull, and a slightly differently shaped upper first molar.

Range mass: 70 to 300 g.

Average mass: 200 g.

Range length: 16 to 22 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

Average basal metabolic rate: 0.77 W.

  • Allen, G. 1938. The Mammals of China and Mongolia. Natural history of Central Asia. New York: American Museum of Natural History.
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Size

Length: 46 cm

Weight: 350 grams

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Type Information

Type; Renamed for Rattus rattus
Catalog Number: USNM 111868
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Mammals
Sex/Stage: Female; Adult
Preparation: Skin; Skull
Collector(s): W. Abbott
Year Collected: 1901
Locality: Barren Island, Andaman Islands, Andaman and Nicobar Is, Asia
  • Type: Miller, G. S. 1902 May 29. Proceedings of the United States National Museum. 24: 767.; Renamed: Miller, G. S. 1903 Mar 19. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. 16: 50.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Primarily commensal, but also found in a variety of natural and semi-natural habitats.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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General Habitat

"
Habitat

Tropical dry deciduous forests, subtropical dry deciduous forests, tropical mangrove forest, subtropical mangrove forests, tropical and subtropical scrub, tropical grasslands, arable lands, urban areas, rural gardens, human settlements, found in all habitats except cold deserts

Niche

Various niches

Habitat Status

Quantitative and qualitative increase in favourable habitat due to expansion of human habitation

"
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Rattus rattus is most often found in large numbers in coastal areas because of the way the species is spread through human sea faring. It is generally found in any area that can support its mainly vegetarian diet. Because R. rattus is an agile climber, it often lives in high places, such as top floors of buildings in populated areas or trees in forested areas. Even though it can be found near water, this species rarely swims and unlike its close relatives, rarely finds a home in sewers or in aquatic areas. Although it was formerly common in towns and farms of temperate regions, it has been largely driven out by the more aggressive Norway rat as well as killed off by increasing chemical pest control programs. Data have shown that R. rattus can reach elevations up to 250 m above sea level.

Range elevation: 0 to 250 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural

  • Corbet, G., H. Southern. 1977. The Handbook of British Mammals. Oxford: Octavo.
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Comments: Often associated with humans; buildings, sewers, seaports. In natural habitats in some areas (e.g., Pacific islands [wooded gulches, sugar cane fields, dry and wet forests, coconut palms] and West Indies). In Hawaii (western Mauna Kea), preferred dense tree stands and tall grass over open areas (Amarasekare 1994); abundant in mesic to wet native forest on Maui (Sugihara 1997). Often arboreal. Young are born in nests in protected sites in buildings or within other cover (e.g., ricebird nests in Hawaii, Van Riper 1974; coconut shells, Twibell 1973).

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This species is closely associated with buildings around the world, although in Britain it tends to inhabit rocky shores and cliffs. On the islands it occasionally occurs on rubbish dumps and around buildings (4).
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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Rattus rattus generally feeds on fruit, grain, cereals, and other vegetation. It is an omnivore, however, and will feed on insects or other invertebrates if necessary. It consumes about 15 g/day of food and 15 mL/day of water. Because it consumes and destroys the food source during feeding, it can cause devastating damage to farms and livestock. Not only does it gnaw through many materials but it ruins more than that by excreting on the remains of its foraging efforts.

Animal Foods: insects

Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

Primary Diet: herbivore (Granivore )

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Comments: Very opportunistic feeder on plant/animal foods; partial to grain.

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Impact of these animals on their ecosystems has not been studied. However, we may infer from their feeding habits that they have some impact on plant communities. As a prey species, they may impact populations of those animals which feed upon them. Also, they compete with other species of rodents, such as Rattus norvegicus. Rattus rattus is a disease vector, responsible for bubonic plague outbreaks and other diseases. This cosmopolitan species hosts a wide variety of internal and external parasites, up to 18 species of gastrointestinal helminths in some areas.

Mutualist Species:

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • Mafiana, C., M. Osho, S. Sam-Wobo. 1997. Gastrointestinal helminth parasites of the black rat (Rattus rattus) in Abeokuta, southwest Nigeria.. Journal of Helminthology, 71: 217-220.
  • Desquesnes, M., S. Ravel, G. Cuny. 2002. PCR identification of Trypanosoma lewisi, a common parasite of laboratory rats. Kinetoplastid Biology and Disease, 1: 2. Accessed September 03, 2006 at http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=119323.
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Predation

Known predators of R. rattus vary depending on environment. In urban or suburban areas, house cats are the main threat to its survival. In less populated areas, birds and other carnivorous animals prey upon it. One possible anti-predator adaptation is the array of color patterns found in this species. Some evidence suggests that color is related to geographical location and therefore ability to remain less conspicuous in the local environment. Also, rats are often aggressive toward other rats. Captive studies have shown R. norvegicus will kill R. rattus. Rattus rattus has a typical threat pose in which it stands on its hind feet and bares its teeth.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Known predators

Rattus rattus is prey of:
Buteo jamaicensis
Buteo platypterus
Epicrates inornatus
Felis silvestris catus
Otus nudipes
Herpestes auropunctatus
Diptera
Calodium hepaticum
Secernentia nematodes

Based on studies in:
Puerto Rico, El Verde (Rainforest)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
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Known prey organisms

Rattus rattus preys on:
Eleutherodactylus coqui
Eleutherodactylus richmondi
Eleutherodactylus portoricensis
Eleutherodactylus wightmanae
Eleutherodactylus eneidae
Eleutherodactylus hedricki
fruit
seeds

Based on studies in:
Puerto Rico, El Verde (Rainforest)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
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General Ecology

Home range less than an acre. Summer density estimated at 72/ha and 346/ha on two grids in Puerto Rico (Zwank and Layton 1989).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Behaviour

"Nocturnal, fossorial to semi-arboeal, ruderal"
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Communication and Perception

Rattus rattus is a somewhat vocal animal, producing squeaks when threatened or socializing. It also produces oil smears that are left along particular areas to illustrate territorial boundries. Hierarchy in groups is determined using aggressive threat postures and physcial contact. Vision, hearing, touch, and smell are all used in sensing the environment.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Cyclicity

Comments: Active mainly at night. Diurnal activity is common on some West Indies islands.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Rattus rattus tends to live for about a year in the wild with an annual mortality rate of 91 to 97%. In captivity, it has been reported to live for up to 4 years.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
1 (high) years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
4 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
1 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: captivity:
1 (low) years.

  • Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World (6th Edition). Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.
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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 4.2 years (captivity) Observations: One captive specimen lived for 4.2 years (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

Social groups of R. rattus are often formed of multiple males and multiple females. One male is dominant and a linear male hierarchy may form. Two to three females are often dominant to all other group members except the dominant male. Females are generally more aggressive than males. The species is polygynous, and generally, the dominant male is the most successful breeder. Territories and mates are defended through aggressive behavior. If environmental conditions allow it, successful breeding may occur all year.

Mating System: polygynous

Rattus rattus is able to breed throughout the year if conditions allow. The peak breeding seasons are summer and autumn. Females can produce up to 5 litters in one year. The gestation period ranges between 21 and 29 days, and young rats are able to reproduce within 3 to 5 months of their birth. Neonates are altricial, like most rodents, and their eyes do not open until 15 days of age. Young remain hairless for much of their nursing period. Weaning and independence from the mother occur at about 3 to 4 weeks of age.

Breeding interval: R. rattus breeds year-round producing up to five litters in that time.

Breeding season: R. rattus mates throughout the year if environmental conditions permit, however peak times are summer and autumn seasons.

Range number of offspring: 6 to 12.

Average number of offspring: 8.

Range gestation period: 21 to 29 days.

Range weaning age: 3 to 4 weeks.

Range time to independence: 3 to 4 weeks.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 to 5 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 3 to 5 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 4.55 g.

Average number of offspring: 7.3.

Because male members of R. rattus copulate with one female and then move on to the next, they don't contribute much to the care of the young. The young remain relatively helpless for about 2 weeks, until they begin to grow a pelage, their eyes open, and they are able to move around more. Weaning is accompanied by increased independence from the mother. Until these rats reach their full adult size, they stay in the nest built by their mother. Young rats are capable of reproducing by about 3 to 5 months of age.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; altricial ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Female)

  • Corbet, G., H. Southern. 1977. The Handbook of British Mammals. Oxford: Octavo.
  • Grzimek, B. 2003. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia: Mammals. Pp. 126-128 in N Schlager, D Olendorf, M McDade, eds. Order: Rodentia, Vol. 16, 2nd Edition. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.
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Breeds throughout the year. Gestation lasts 21 days. Produces several litters of 6-22 (average around 8-9) young per year; average reported as 6.5 in Hawaii (see Kramer 1971).

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Rattus rattus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 10
Specimens with Barcodes: 90
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Barcode data: Rattus rattus

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 17 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.  Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

AACCGTTGACTCTTTTCAACTAACCACAAAGATATCGGAACCCTCTATCTATTATTTGGTGCCTGAGCAGGAATAGTAGGGACAGCCTTA---AGTATTCTCATTCGAGCTGAACTAGGACAACCAGGAGCACTCCTAGGCGAT---GACCAAATTTATAATGTCATTGTTACAGCCCATGCATTCGTAATAATTTTCTTTATAGTTATGCCTATGATAATCGGAGGCTTCGGAAACTGGCTTGTGCCGCTAATG---ATTGGGGCCCCTGATATAGCATTCCCACGAATAAACAACATAAGCTTTTGATTACTTCCCCCATCATTTTTACTCCTTTTAGCATCATCTATGGTAGAAGCCGGAGCCGGAACAGGATGAACAGTATACCCACCCTTAGCCGGTAATCTAGCCCATGCCGGAGCTTCTGTTGATCTA---ACCATTTTCTCCCTTCACCTAGCCGGCGTATCCTCTATCTTAGGAGCTATTAATTTTATCACCACTATTATCAATATAAAACCCCCTGCTATAACCCAATATCAGACACCTCTATTTGTGTGATCCGTATTAATTACAGCTGTACTTCTACTTCTTTCACTACCAGTGTTGGCAGCA---GGCATTACCATACTCCTCACAGATCGAAACCTAAATACTACTTTTTTTGATCCTGCTGGAGGCGGAGATCCAATTCTCTATCAACATCTATTTTGATTCTTCGGACACCCAGAAGTCTATATCCTCATCCTCCCAGGATTTGGAATTATCTCCCACGTAGTTACCTACTACTCTGGGAAAAAA---GAACCATTTGGATATATAGGCATAGTTTGGGCCATAATATCTATTGGTTTCCTAGGATTTATTGTATGAGCTCATCATATATTCACAGTAGGCCTAGATGTAGACACGCGAGCCTATTTCACATCTGCCACCATAATTATCGCAATCCCTACAGGAGTAAAAGTATTTAGCTGACTT---GCTACCTTGCACGGAGGT---AACATCAAATGATCTCCTGCTATACTATGAGCCCTAGGGTTTATTTTCTTATTCACAGTAGGAGGGTTAACAGGAATCGTCCTATCTAATTCATCACTTGATATCGTACTCCATGATACATACTATGTAGTAGCCCACTTCCACTATGTG---TTATCTATAGGAGCAGTATTTGCCATTATAGCCGGCTTTGTCCACTGATTTCCTCTATTTTCAGGATACACCCTAGACGATACATGAGCAAAAGCCCACTTCGCTATCATATTTGTAGGTGTCAACATAACATTCTTCCCTCAACATTTCCTAGGACTGTCAGGAATACCTCGA---CGATACTCTGACTACCCAGATGCTTACACC---ACATGAAACACAATCTCATCTATAGGTTCATTTATCTCACTTACAGCCGTCCTCGTAATAATTTTTATGATTTGAGAGGCCTTCGCATCAAAACGAGAAGTG---CTTTCAGTCTCCTACTCCTCAACCAAC
-- end --

Download FASTA File
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Amori, G., Hutterer, R., Kryštufek, B., Yigit, N., Mitsain, G. & Palomo, L.J.

Reviewer/s
Amori, G. (Small Nonvolant Mammal Red List Authority) & Temple, H. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
A widespread and abundant species, often regarded as a pest, hence is listed as Least Concern.
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LEAST CONCERN
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Rattus rattus has no special conservation status. They are widespread and abundant, especially in areas where humans live.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Status in Egypt

Non-native, resident.

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Status

Not legally protected in the UK. No conservation designations (3).
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Population

Population
A widespread and abundant species.

Population Trend
Stable
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Abundant and considered as a pest
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Threats

Major Threats
No major threats.
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"Pest control practices, natural calamities like fire, rise of temperature, pathogens or parasites affecting the individuals, used in research for human disease investigations, hunted for local consumption"
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The future of this once devastating pest in Britain is now uncertain. Improved hygiene and control measures on ships makes further introductions highly unlikely, and control measures such as poisoning with rodenticides are ever-prevalent, particularly close to human habitation, where this species occurs (4).
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Legislation

"India Schedule V of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, amended up to 2002."
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Protection Legal Status

Not listed
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Not protected under international legislation; commonly regarded as a pest. Present in many protected areas.
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Management Requirements: Scowcroft and Sakai (1984) recommended control of rats during first 5 years of koa planting or regeneration in Hawaii.

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Conservation

The question as to whether this species should now receive a level of protection due to its poor status is a highly contentious issue (4).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Uses

Harvested for local consumption
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Although not generally viewed fondly by humans, Black Rats are welcome at the Karni Mata Temple in northern India, where the rats are treated as sacred.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Rattus rattus is a pest and is dangerous to humans in several ways. First, these animals are severely destructive to crops, farms, and fruit trees. Not only do they feed on these but they tend to destroy what they are unable to consume. By urinating and defecating on remains of their meals, they ruin grain, cereals, and other food sources. This species is famous for its role in spreading the bubonic plague (Yersinia pestis) that took millions of lives in the middle ages. The fleas that live on these rats carry a number of diseases that can seriously harm humans, livestock, and other animals.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (causes disease in humans , carries human disease); crop pest; causes or carries domestic animal disease ; household pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known benefits of R. rattus for humans. Norway rats, the closest related species, is often used for research and as pets.

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Economic Uses

Comments: Often a severe pest; destructive to stored crops, coconuts, and to native flora on Pacific Islands (Scowcroft and Sakai 1984, Baker and Allen 1978, Twibell 1973), damages sugarcane in southern Florida (Lefebvre et al. 1989); public health menace.

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Risks

Species Impact: Implicated in decline of native fauna in Hawaii (Atkinson 1977), though Amarasekare (1994) found no evidence that this species is an important predator on honeycreepers on western Mauna Kea. Rat control reduced predation on dark-rumped petrel on Maui (Buxbaum 1973). Implicated as a contributor in the decline of the ancient murrelet and other burrow-nesting seabirds (see Bertram and Nagorsen 1995).

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Wikipedia

Black rat

The black rat (Rattus rattus) is a common long-tailed rodent of the genus Rattus (rats) in the subfamily Murinae (murine rodents). The species originated in tropical Asia and spread through the Near East in Roman times before reaching Europe by the 1st century and spreading with Europeans across the world.

Taxonomy[edit]

Black rat skull

The black rat was one of the many species originally described by Linnaeus in his 18th century work, Systema Naturae, and it still bears its original tautonym of Rattus rattus.[2] It is the type species of the genus Rattus. Alternate names include ship rat, roof rat, house rat, Alexandrine rat, and old English rat.

Description[edit]

A typical adult black rat is 12.75–18.25 in (32.4–46.4 cm) long, including a 6.5–10 in (17–25 cm) tail, and weighs 4–12 oz (110–340 g).[3] Despite its name, the black rat exhibits several colour forms. It is usually black to light brown in colour with a lighter underside. In the 1920s in England, several variations were bred and shown alongside domesticated brown rats. This included an unusual green tinted variety.[4] The black rat also has a scraggly coat of black fur, and is slightly smaller than the brown (Norway) rat.

Origin of Rattus rattus[edit]

Rattus rattus bone remains that date back to the Norman Period have been discovered in Britain. Evidence also suggests that R. rattus existed in prehistoric Europe as well as the Levant during post-glacial periods.[5] The specific origin of the black rat is uncertain due to the rat's disappearance and reintroduction. Evidence such as DNA and bone fragments also suggests that rats did not originally come from Europe, but migrated from southeast Asia.[6]

Rats are resilient vectors for many diseases because of their ability to hold so many infectious bacteria in their blood. Rats played a primary role in spreading bacteria, such as Yersinia pestis, which is responsible for the Justinianic plague and bubonic plague.[6] According to epidemiological models, Yersinia pestis originated outside of Europe which indicates that Western and central Europe have never had any natural rodent plagues. The modern Roman rat arose from an ancestor that originated in Malaysia.[6] The number of chromosomes these Malaysian rats and the Mediterranean black rats differ by four chromosomes.[6] Therefore, it seems that speciation could have occurred when the rats colonized southwest India, which was a primary country where Romans obtained their spices. Because Rattus rattus is a passive traveler, they could have easily traveled to Europe during the trading between Rome and the southwestern Asian countries. Evidence also suggests that, in 321–331 BC, Egyptian birds were preying on Mediterranean rats, though this is not enough to prove that Egypt was the source of the rats.[6]

A black rat in the Tierpark Hagenbeck in Hamburg, Germany.

Diet[edit]

Black rats are considered omnivores and eat a wide range of foods, including seeds, fruit, stems, leaves, fungi, and a variety of invertebrates and vertebrates. They are generalists, and thus not very specific in their food preferences, which is indicated by their tendency to feed on any meal provided for cows, swine, chickens, cats, and dogs.[7] They are similar to the tree squirrel in their preference of fruits and nuts. They eat about 15 grams (0.53 oz) per day and drink about 15 millilitres (0.53 imp fl oz; 0.51 US fl oz) per day.[8] Their diet is high in water content.[7] They are a threat to many natural habitats because they feed on birds and insects. They are also a threat to many farmers since they feed on a variety of agricultural-based crops, such as cereals, sugar cane, coconuts, cocoa, oranges, and coffee beans.[9]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The black rat originated in India and Southeast Asia, and spread to the Near East and Egypt, and then throughout the Roman Empire, reaching Great Britain as early as the 1st century.[10] Europeans subsequently spread it throughout the world. The black rat is again largely confined to warmer areas, having been supplanted by the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) in cooler regions and urban areas. In addition to being larger and more aggressive, the change from wooden structures and thatched roofs to bricked and tiled buildings favored the burrowing brown rats over the arboreal black rats. In addition, brown rats eat a wider variety of foods, and are more resistant to weather extremes.[11]

Black rat populations can explode under certain circumstances, perhaps having to do with the timing of the fruiting of the bamboo plant, and cause devastation to the plantings of subsistence farmers; this phenomenon is known as Mautam in parts of India.[12]

Black rats are thought to have arrived in Australia with the First Fleet, and subsequently spread to many coastal regions in the country.[13]

In New Zealand, black rats have an unusual distribution and importance, in that they are utterly pervasive through native forests, scrublands, and urban parklands. This is typical only of oceanic islands that lack native mammals, especially other rodents. Throughout most of the world, black rats are found only in disturbed habitats near people, mainly near the coast. Black rats are the most frequent predator of small forest birds, invertebrates, and perhaps lizards in New Zealand forests, and are key ecosystem changers. Controlling their abundance on usefully large areas of the New Zealand mainland is a crucial current challenge for conservation managers.

Black rats adapt to a wide range of habitats. In urban areas they are found around warehouses, residential buildings, and other human settlements. They are also found in agricultural areas, such as in barns and crop fields. In urban areas they prefer to live in dry upper levels of buildings, so they are commonly found in wall cavities and false ceilings. In the wild, black rats live in cliffs, rocks, the ground, and trees.[9] They are great climbers and prefer to live in trees, such as pines and palm trees. Their nests are typically spherical and made of shredded material, including sticks, leaves, other vegetation, and cloth. In the absence of trees, they can burrow into the ground.[8] Black rats are also found around fences, ponds, riverbanks, streams, and reservoirs.[7]

The black rat, along with the brown rat, is one of the most widespread rats and animal species in the world.

Comparison of the physique of a black rat (Rattus rattus) with a brown rat (Rattus norvegicus)

Home range[edit]

Home range refers to the area in which an animal travels and spends most of its time. It is thought that male and female rats have similar sized home ranges during the winter, but male rats increase the size of their home range during the breeding season. Along with differing between rats of different gender, home range also differs depending on the type of forest in which the black rat inhabits. For example, home ranges in the southern beech forests of the South Island, New Zealand appear to be much larger than the non-beech forests of the North Island. Due to the limited number of rats that are studied in home range studies, the estimated sizes of rat home ranges in different rat demographic groups are inconclusive.

Nesting behavior[edit]

Through the usage of tracking devices such as radio transmitters, rats have been found to occupy dens located in trees, as well as on the ground. In Puketi, a forest in Kauri, New Zealand, rats have been found to form dens together. Rats appear to den and forage in separate areas in their home range depending on the availability of food resources.[14] Research shows that in New South Wales, the black rat prefers to inhabit lower leaf litter of forest habitat. There is also an apparent correlation between the canopy height and logs and the presence of black rats. This correlation may be a result of the distribution of the abundance of prey as well as available refuges for rats to avoid predators. As found in North Head, New South Wales, there is positive correlation between rat abundance, leaf litter cover, canopy height, and litter depth. All other habitat variables showed little to no correlation.[15] While this species' relative, the Brown (Norway) Rat prefers to nest near the ground of a building the black rat will prefer the upper floors and roof. Because of this habit they have been given the common name Roof Rat.

Foraging behavior[edit]

As generalists, Black rats express great flexibility in their foraging behavior. They are predatory animals and adapt to different micro-habitats. They often meet and forage together in close proximity within and between sexes.[14] Rats tend to forage after sunset. If the food cannot be eaten quickly, they will search for a place to carry and hoard to eat at a later time.[7] Although black rats eat a broad range of foods, they are highly selective feeders; only a restricted number of the foods they eat are dominant foods.[16] When black rat populations are presented with a wide diversity of foods, they eat only a small sample of each of the available foods. This allows them to monitor the quality of foods that are present year round, such as leaves, as well as seasonal foods, such as herbs and insects. This method of operating on a set of foraging standards ultimately determines the final composition of their meals. Also, by sampling the available food in an area, the rats maintain a dynamic food supply, balance their nutrient intake, and avoid intoxication by secondary compounds.[16]

Ecology[edit]

Black rats (or their ectoparasites) are able to carry a number of pathogens,[17] of which bubonic plague (via the rat flea[disambiguation needed]), typhus, Weil's disease, toxoplasmosis and trichinosis are the best known. It has been hypothesized that the displacement of black rats by brown rats led to the decline of the Black Death.[18] This theory has, however, been deprecated, as the dates of these displacements do not match the increases and decreases in plague outbreaks.[19]

Predators and diseases[edit]

The black rat serves as prey to cats and owls in domestic settings. In less urban settings, rats are preyed upon by weasels, foxes, and coyotes. These predators have little effect on the control of the black rat population because black rats are agile and fast climbers. In addition to agility, the black rat also makes use of its keen sense of hearing to detect danger and quickly evade mammalian and avian predators.[7] Rats serve as outstanding vectors for transmittance of diseases because they have the ability to carry bacteria and viruses in their systems. There are a number of bacterial diseases that are common to rats, and these include Streptococcus pneumoniae, Corynebacterium kutsheri, Bacillus piliformis, Pasteurella pneumotropica, and Streptobacillus moniliformis, to name a few. All of these bacteria are disease causing agents in humans. In some cases, these diseases are incurable.[20]

R. rattus as an invasive species[edit]

Damage caused by R. rattus[edit]

After Rattus rattus was introduced into the northern islands of New Zealand they fed on the seedlings adversely affecting the ecology of the islands. Even after eradication of R. rattus the negative effects may take decades to reverse. When consuming these seabirds and seabird eggs, these rats reduce the pH of the soil. This harms plant species by reducing nutrient availability in soil, thus decreasing the probability of seed germination. For example, research conducted by Hoffman et al. indicates a large impact on sixteen indigenous plant species directly preyed on by R. rattus. These plants displayed a negative correlation in germination and growth in the presence of black rats.[21] Rats prefer to forage in forest habitats. In the Ogasawara islands, they prey on the indigenous snails and seedlings. Snails that inhabit the leaf litter of these islands showed a significant decline in population upon the introduction of Rattus rattus. The black rat shows preference for snails with larger shells (greater than 10mm), and this led to a great decline in the population of snails with larger shells. A lack of prey refuges makes it more difficult for the snail to avoid the rat.[22]

Complex pest[edit]

The black rat has been considered a complex pest, which is a pest that influences the environment in both harmful and beneficial ways. In many cases, after the black rat is introduced into a new area, the population size of some native species declines or goes extinct altogether. This is often due to the fact that the black rat is a good generalist with a wide dietary niche and a preference for complex habitats; this causes strong competition for resources among small animals. This has led to the black rat completely displacing many native species in Madagascar, the Galapagos, and the Florida Keys. In a study by Stokes et al., habitats suitable for the native bush rat, Rattus fuscipes, of Australia are often invaded by the black rat and are eventually occupied by only the black rat. When the abundances of these two rat species were compared in different micro-habitats, both were found to be affected by micro-habitat disturbances, but the black rat was most abundant in areas of high disturbance; this indicates it has a better dispersal ability.[23] Despite the black rat's tendency to displace native species, it can also aid in increasing species population numbers and maintaining species diversity. The bush rat, a common vector for spore dispersal of mycorrhiza commonly known as truffles, has been extirpated from many micro-habitats of Australia. In the absence of a vector for spore dispersal of these truffles, the diversity of truffle species will decline. In a study conducted by Vernes et al. in New South Wales, Australia it was found that although the bush rat consumes a diversity of truffle species, the black rat consumes as much of the diverse fungi as the natives and is an effective vector for spore dispersal. Since the black rat now occupies many of the micro-habitats that were previously inhabited by the bush rat, the black rat plays an important ecological role in the dispersal of fungal spores. By eradicating the black rat populations in Australia, the diversity of fungi would decline, potentially doing more harm than good.[23]

Control methods[edit]

Large-scale rat control programs have been taken to maintain a steady level of the invasive predators in order to conserve the native species in New Zealand such as kokako and mohua.[24] Pesticides, such as pindone and 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate), are commonly distributed via aerial spray by helicopter as a method of mass control on islands infested with invasive rat populations. Bait, such as brodifacoum, is also used along with coloured dyes in order to kill and identify rats for experimental and tracking purposes. Another method to track rats is the use of wired cage traps, which are used along with bait, such as rolled oats and peanut butter, to tag and track rats to determine population sizes through methods like mark-recapture and radio-tracking.[14] Poison control methods are effective in reducing rat populations to nonthreatening sizes, but rat populations often rebound to normal size within months. Besides their highly adaptive foraging behavior and fast reproduction, the exact mechanisms for their rebound is unclear and are still being studied.[25]

In 2010, the Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña (Puerto Rican Bird Society) and the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club launched a campaign to eradicate the black rat from the Isla Ratones (Rats Island) and Isla Cardona (Cardona Island) islands off the municipality of Ponce, Puerto Rico.[26]

Endangerment and conservation[edit]

Rattus rattus populations were common in Great Britain, but began to decline after the introduction of the brown rat in the 18th century. R. rattus populations remained common in seaports and major cities until the late 19th century but have been decreased due to rodent control and sanitation measures. There is currently only one natural population of R. rattus left, in the Shiant Islands of Great Britain. Although rats pose a threat to native seabird species and their eggs, seabird populations have remained stable. There are no definite studies about their impact on sea birds in the Shiant Islands.[27]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Amori, G., Hutterer, R., Kryštufek, B., Yigit, N., Mitsain, G. & Palomo, L.J. (2008). "Rattus rattus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 9 August 2011. 
  2. ^ (Latin) Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. Holmiae. (Laurentii Salvii). 
  3. ^ See:
  4. ^ Alderton, David. Rodents of the World, 1996, page 29. ISBN 0-8160-3229-7
  5. ^ Rackham, J (1979). "Rattus rattus: The introduction of the black rat into Britain". Antiquity 53 (208): 112–20. PMID 11620121. 
  6. ^ a b c d e McCormick, M (2003). "Rats, Communications, and Plague: Toward an Ecological History" (PDF). Journal of Interdisciplinary History 34 (1): 1–25. doi:10.1162/002219503322645439. ISSN 0022-1953. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Marsh, Rex E. (1994). "Roof Rats". Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management. Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  8. ^ a b Bennet, Stuart M. "The Black Rat (Rattus Rattus)". The Pied Piper. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  9. ^ a b "Rattus rattus – Roof rat". Wildlife Information Network. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  10. ^ Donald W. Engels. Classical Cats: The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Cat, Routledge, 1999, ISBN 978-0-415-21251-9, p. 111.
  11. ^ Teisha Rowland. "Ancient Origins of Pet Rats", Santa Barbara Independent, 4 December 2009.
  12. ^ Nova: Rat Attack (PBS TV program), viewed 7 April 2010
  13. ^ Evans, Ondine (1 April 2010). "Animal Species: Black Rat". Australian Museum website. Sydney, Australia: Australian Museum. Retrieved 31 December 2010. 
  14. ^ a b c Dowding, JE; Murphy, EC (1994). "Ecology of Ship Rats (Rattus rattus) in a Kauri (‘Agathis australis") Forest in Northland, New Zealand" (PDF). Austral Ecology 18 (1): 19–28. ISSN 0110-6465. 
  15. ^ Cox, MPG; Dickman, CR; Cox, WG (2000). "Use of habitat by the black rat (Rattus rattus) at North Head, New South Wales: an observational and experimental study". Austral Ecology 25 (4): 375–85. doi:10.1046/j.1442-9993.2000.01050.x. ISSN 1442-9993. 
  16. ^ a b Clark, D. A. (1982). "Foraging behavior of vertebrate omnivore (Rattus rattus): Meal structure, sampling, and diet breadth.". Ecology 63 (3): 763–772. doi:10.2307/1936797. 
  17. ^ Meerburg BG, Singleton GR, Kijlstra A (2009). "Rodent-borne diseases and their risks for public health". Crit Rev Microbiol 35 (3): 221–70. doi:10.1080/10408410902989837. PMID 19548807. 
  18. ^ See e.g.,
  19. ^ See e.g.:
  20. ^ Boschert, Ken (27 March 1991). "Rat Bacterial Diseases". Net Vet and the Electronic Zoo. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  21. ^ Grant-Hoffman, MN; Mulder, CP; Belingham, PJ (2009). "Invasive Rats Alter Woody Seedling Composition on Seabird-dominated Islands in New Zealand". Oecologia 163 (2): 449–60. doi:10.1046/j.1442-9993.2000.01050.x. ISSN 1442-9993. PMID 20033216. 
  22. ^ Chiba, S. (2010). "Invasive Rats Alter Assemblage Characteristics of Land Snails in the Ogasawara Islands". Biological Conservation 143 (6): 1558–63. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2010.03.040. ISSN 0006-3207. 
  23. ^ a b Vernes, K; Mcgrath, K (2009). "Are Introduced Black Rats (Rattus rattus) a Functional Replacement for Mycophagous Native Rodents in Fragmented Forests?". Fungal Ecology 2 (3): 145–48. doi:10.1016/j.funeco.2009.03.001. 
  24. ^ Pryde, M; Dilks, P; Fraser, Ian (2005). "The home range of ship rats (Rattus rattus) in beech forest in the Eglinton Valley, Fiordland, New Zealand: a pilot study" (PDF). New Zealand Journal of Zoology 32 (3): 139–42. doi:10.1080/03014223.2005.9518406. ISSN 0301-4223. 
  25. ^ Innes, J; Warburton, B; Williams, D et al (1995). "Large-Scale Poisoning of Ship Rats (Rattus rattus) in Indigenous Forests of the North Island, New Zealand" (PDF). New Zealand Journal of Ecology 19 (1): 5–17. ISSN 0110-6465. 
  26. ^ Restauran hábitat del lagartijo del seco Anolis cooki en la Isla de Cardona y Cayo Ratones. 4 August 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  27. ^ Stapp, P (2002). "Stable isotopes reveal evidence of predation by ship rats on sea birds on the Shiant Islands, Scotland". Journal of Applied Ecology 39 (5): 831–840. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2664.2002.00754.x. 
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: See Musser and Carleton (in Wilson and Reeder 2005) for a good review and discussion of Rattus taxonomy and phylogeny.

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