10 Incredible Rat Facts

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Updated: September 27, 2023
© Olena Kurashova/Shutterstock.com
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Rats are long-tailed, medium-sized rodents that come in a variety of colors. They are a part of the Rodentia order and the Rattus genus. While these animals are usually feared or considered invasive, disease-carrying pests, they serve an especially important purpose in scientific research. They are even favored as very loving and affectionate household pets. Let’s learn more about these long-tailed animals by exploring 10 incredible rat facts!

1. There Are 56 Known Species of Rats

Largest rats - Gambian pouched rat
There are at least 56 species of rats globally.


Currently, there are at least 56 species of rats. The best-known species are the black rat and brown rat. They are known as Old World rats that originated in Asia and derived from older species of rats during the Pleistocene era. Rats are often much larger than their mice relatives but typically do not weigh over 17 ounces. As pets, they can live for a few years, while in the wild, they typically do not live past one year due to predation.

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2. Rats Have Very Long Tails That Have Various Purposes

One common characteristic of rats is their extremely long and naked tails.

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The common characteristic of rats is their extremely long and naked tails. While many people are often frightened of rats because of this characteristic, their tails are quite useful to them. Rats often use their tails for balance. Because their tales are heat-loss organs, they can use them to regulate body temperature. Additionally, they use different flicking motions as a form of communication. Lastly, their long tails are weapons used to thwart predators!

3. Rats Are Often Kept as Pets

three rats in a cage
Rats love to cuddle and often lick their owners if they have formed a close bond.


Although some dangerous forms of wild rats exist, domesticated rats are usually quite loving and affectionate when introduced as pets in a household. In fact, domesticated rats have often been dubbed “pocket puppies” due to their loving and affectionate nature. They love to cuddle and often lick their owners if they have formed a close bond. Just keep in mind they are better in pairs, specifically a pair of males. Not only are they loving, but they are often very loyal and, if socialized properly, are also very trainable companions.

4. Rats Are Commonly Used for Scientific Research

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Rats can be studied for genetics, diseases, and the effects of pharmaceuticals.

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In 1895, a university in Massachusetts formed a population of domesticated rats to study. They studied their diet and conducted psychological studies. They even studied them for genetics, diseases, and the effects of pharmaceuticals. Since then, rats have been used in science to understand a variety of topics better to provide benefits for the health of humankind. Not only have lab rats provided a better understanding of overall health and wellbeing, but they have also been used to study and combat certain infectious diseases.

5. Rats Are Highly Intelligent and Can Be Used as Working Rats

Rats are incredibly intelligent and possess a mental ability that is often seen in both primates and humans alike. Because they have proved incredibly trainable and receptive, rats have often been used for working purposes. They have a profound sense of smell and have often been used to sniff out gunpowder residue and detect mines in military practices. Not only that, but they have also been found as a major source of animal-assisted therapy for humans.

6. Wild Rats Are Considered an Invasive Species and Pests

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Rats have long been considered both an invasive species and pests.

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Rats have long been considered both an invasive species and pests. They have contributed to both the Bubonic plague and the Black Death. Still, the CDC often says that a variety of diseases are linked to rats. This includes different mutations of the SARS virus. Not only that, but rats love to devour pretty much any food that is nearby. In fact, nearly every fifty years in India, a rat flood occurs. This is composed of armies of Bamboo Rats that swarm rural areas and devour everything in sight, eliminating many food sources for both humans and animals.

7. Rats Can Carry Some Pretty Deadly Diseases

Rats are known to carry fleas that contain both the plague and other deadly viruses and diseases. They are also known to carry other deadly diseases. They are known to spread Lassa fever, leptospirosis, and hantavirus infection to humans as well as certain mites. These mites are known to cause human dermatitis by biting and feeding off humans.

Scientists and medical research teams have been able to identify these diseases and produce medicinal properties to combat them. However, it is still important to report any rat infestations in your home and to be cautious when one is nearby.

8. Rats Live in Large Colonies

Rats are also known to be part of large families or colonies, around 40-50 to be exact. However, they can also reach the hundreds since these are very social animals that constantly reproduce. These colonies are usually near viable food sources. They are often underground in burrows beneath large cities so they can emerge and search for food. They rarely move their homes and will only do so if the food source is greater in another nearby location.

9. Rats Have Very Strong Teeth

pet rat in cage eating cookie
Rats have strong teeth, most of the strength residing in their incisors.


Although their mouths are relatively small, rats have strong teeth, most of the strength residing in their incisors. These teeth continuously grow throughout their lives and are primarily used for gnawing. In fact, these incisors can gnaw through anything, even wood, concrete, brick, drywall, aluminum, and much more! Not only are their teeth strong, but their jaws are also relatively powerful.

10. Rats Can Go Without Drinking Water for a Very Long Time

Often surpassing camels, rats can go a long time without water, nearly over a month or longer! They usually hydrate themselves through moisture within their food sources. However, if a rat cannot find food, its time limit for hydration drastically decreases. Most rats can go two to three days without food. However, if they are domesticated, it is best not to let them go this long without food or water.

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About the Author

A substantial part of my life has been spent as a writer and artist, with great respect to observing nature with an analytical and metaphysical eye. Upon close investigation, the natural world exposes truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of all that we are is embodied in our planet; and the process of writing and creating art around this topic is an attempt to communicate its wonders.

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