The clever things rats do, and how to prevent them


Ever heard strange stories of rats trying to overthrow mankind, or humongous rats that are intelligent enough to discover a landmine in under a minute? Let me share with you some weird and wonderful facts about rats, and also some tips to make sure they stay clear of your home, toilet and your food cabinet.

Rats Discovered in Toilets

Original video: National Geographic

Rats are great swimmers and climbers

Rats are both excellent swimmers and good climbers, but I had never thought about these physical characteristics being used in combination. That was until I came across multiple stories of people discovering rats in their toilet bowls… Watch a video if you don’t believe it!

Rats have been found residing in sewers and then climbing up pipes into toilet bowls (this isn’t only limited to the character Splinter from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie). Mastering this is a challenge as both the pipes leading up to – and inside of – the toilet are smooth sided. If they do manage that, they have to get past the U-bend as well! I think they should try out for the rodent Olympics, as it’s a known fact that rats can jump 77cm vertically and 120cm horizontally, and can stay afloat for 72 hours, so they’ll probably select the most physically talented from the team to take this on to increase their chances of entering your home.

Here’s a tip: Be sure to use mesh or screens to cover drains, and install backwater valves in drainage systems. If you do notice damaged drain facilities, it is important to act immediately by securing water pipes with metal bars. Damaged drain pipes that reach the surface of the basement should be sealed as soon as possible.

Also, since rats are great climbers, be sure to trim your hedges and trees regularly, as they can also gain access to your property via your roof or windows. See more rat control tips.

Gambian Pouched Rat sniffing for landmines

Gambian Pouched Rat by Xavier Rossi

Rats have a keen sense of smell

I have come across cat-sized Gambian pouch rats (also called “Hero Rats”) that have been trained by APOPO (acronym from Dutch which in English stands for: Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development) to sniff out the scent of explosives, and then alert their handler upon discovery. Who would have ever thought that a rat would be the perfect candidate for any job – let alone sniffing out landmines and saving lives! What makes them so fantastic at this is that they are light enough to not detonate the landmines, plus they can quickly scurry across two hundred square metres which would take us humans with metal detectors about 5 days! If fact, no rats have died searching for explosives and in the last 15 years they have discovered almost 10 000 landmines!

Not only am I really surprised about the size of these rats and their astonishing abilities, but I’m also amazed at the bond they form with their handlers who train them and feed them fruit as a reward. After about 6 years they retire (these rodents have a lifespan of 8 years) and they spend their last days being looked after, loved and fed.

Here’s a tip: Although trained rats do sound pretty adorable, one must be aware that the rodents entering your home won’t be the trained hero rats as mentioned above, but your common house pest! (only if all the rats could be so amazing as these, sigh). Ensure that you do not leave food around, and rather seal food in air-tight containers so as to not attract them. Once they have a steady supply of food and shelter, they might just decide to become a permanent houseguest – and these are pets you do not want around! Not only will they snack on your left-overs, but they will contaminate your food as well.

Rats reward acts of kindness

Rats reciprocate acts of genorosity

Rats reciprocate acts of generosity

Ever thought that only humans return acts of generosity? Think again! A recent study has shown that whilst rats are known to assist each other, Norwegian rats offer assistance to those that have previously helped them, for the hopes of future reciprocation, according to co-author Michael Taborsky, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Bern in Switzerland. Furthermore, they also recognise the individual they deemed to be helpful as either a “quality” helper (or not) and decide whether they want to return the favour.

This study firstly focused on providing two types of food; carrots and bananas. In the experiments, two rats were placed in separate pens and could provide each other with either of these snacks by pulling on a stick. It turns out bananas was the clear favourite here, and the rat would decide whether the individual was a great helper if they received bananas, and not-so-great if they received the carrots. Secondly, when the rats were switched and the foods were replaced with cereal, the banana-giving rats received cereal more regularly and more speedily than those helpers that gave carrots!

So here is to hoping that it doesn’t work the other way around – what if rats decided that they wanted to punish us for trying to get rid of them, and decide to bring hordes of their gnawing friends to take up residence in our homes…? Since they are known to chew through cables that can cause electrical fires, we need to get them before they get us!

Here’s a tip: Be sure to seal any cracks in doors, windows and ceilings where rats can easily gain entry. Once you have got them in your home they might just decide to reward each other, or rather themselves and help them to the snack you were saving for later, or even gnaw through walls and any other conceivable material for revenge. (Did you know that the lower incisors of a brown rat have a hardness of 5.5 on the Moh’s scale. That’s harder than steel, iron and platinum!).

Here is to making sure these furry fiends stay away and that no Pinky and the Brain schemes pop up to overthrow us humans!

Need to keep the rats at bay? See more tips on rat control.


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