Our red panda issue features an amazing article about rats, and here we explain what makes them some of the coolest animals on the planet
Rats weren’t responsible for the plague. Rats don’t aim for the jugular. These rodents have a seriously bad reputation that they don’t deserve. They conquered the world by stowing away on human modes of transport and are now found all over the planet. While some find this repulsive, we’re impressed by this small animal’s drive to survive.
Rats have relationships
As social creatures, rats depend on others around them. They sleep snuggled up with their friends and play with their siblings. Rats are ticklish, and even laugh when tickled. Like primates, rats groom one another and form close bonds with neighbouring rats. They will even free another trapped rat if given the chance, even if food is on offer that they could keep for themselves.
Whiskers are more than hair
The hairs that sprout from a rat’s face give the animal a sixth sense. The hairs work like the tips of human fingers groping around in the dark, using touch to build up a picture of the environment. When a whisker comes into contact with an object they send messages to the brain, allowing a rat to see without using its eyes. They can also detect air flow patterns, picking up movement in the environment before they can see or hear it.
Rodent memory is incredible
When exploring a new area, rats create networks of pathways that they are able to remember in the future. Scientists used to think they achieved this by following their own trails of urine, but rats even find their way after heavy rain and snowfall. Recent research has revealed that rats use visual cues to remember their way, remembering vertical landmarks like trees or fence posts. These memories are thought to be more robust than a human recalling a telephone number.
Rat memory is thought to work by a system called parallel processing. This means that the brain deals with information in different areas at the same time. Each area processes the information according to a different set of principles, with the outcome influencing the animal’s behaviour. Parallel processing leads to storage of information that influences how similar information is dealt with in the future, making rats exceptional learners.