Misunderstood: The Ticklish, Empathetic, Laughing, Problem-Solving, Chocolate-Sharing Rat

Rats are social creatures.

In just a few days, my family will be welcoming some new pets in the form of three young rats. We have been planning for them for about a month now, and my kids and I are getting excited (the jury is still out on how my husband or our cat feels).  The response we get when we share the news with friends and family members has been wildly varying. Some can barely repress their shuddering as they ask why on earth would we want rats?? Others will go on and on about the cool rats they have owned or known and share humorous anecdotes about their furry friends.

The difference in opinion is striking. One group sees these creatures as horrid, filthy, vicious, disease-carrying vermin; while the other sees them as intelligent, social, affectionate companions. As a scientist in the lab, my experience with rats was limited to comparing the sequences of rat and human nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (they’re not all that different it turns out), but the more I read, the more I begin to think that rats have been terribly misunderstood. Mind you, I don’t mean that I have been reading Rat Fancier or some other rat enthusiast publication (not that these are bad sources of information). No, I am a scientist and when I want information, I go to the literature, and what the scientific literature says about rats is really quite fascinating. Continue reading “Misunderstood: The Ticklish, Empathetic, Laughing, Problem-Solving, Chocolate-Sharing Rat”