Where do pet rats came from?

Have you ever wondered how rats from the streets and cellars became our beloved pet rats? In case if you didn’t know, laboratory rats aren’t an actual spiece. They have some wild blood in their vains!

Pet rats origin
It’s a fact that in 1822, somewhere near Bristol, Great Britain, some albinotic wild rats were catched. People were very surprised and curious about those strange white animals and of course they smelled some business in it, so they’ve started to show them on expositions as an abomination. In the same time nature siences started to grow, so albinotic rats fastly became laboratory rats. Sientists started to use them in experiments and cross them with wild rats with typical grey, brown or black hair. As the result many different colors and types of rats were born and some people found it realy interesting to keep them at home. And this is how our pet rats great great great parents were born creating rattus domesticus family! In laboratories one of the oldest rats type, that is still in “use”, is one named “Wistar”. He was first mantioned in literature in 1912. Other popular types of rats are August, Bufallo, Lewis, Long Evans or Sprague-Dawley.

Wild rats taking over the world
There are two types of wild rats: rattus norvegicus and rattus rattus, both they came to Europe from… Asia! Yes, your pet rats they have at least one drop of wild oriental blood in their vains and maybe that is a secret of their unique characters. Those rats are a little bit different and if you are a good rat parent, who observes his babies, you will notice quickly how many differences are between rattus norvegicus, rattus rattus and pet rat. They have different tails, ears and body. Rattus norvegicus is this type of rat you probably know from cellars and magazines. He is everywhere (accept the North Pole). Also rattus rattus loves to be near humans but he prefers to climb walls. Sometimes he even lives on trees! But only in Asia and Africa in tropics.

It’s not true that rats came to Europe in XI and XII century with participants of Crusades.  Archeologist proved that bones of rattus rattus were found in pliocen in Italy, Kreta and Poland. You can also find some information about those animals in antic literature. For example Herodot is mentioning them and I am sure many of you have heard a legend about Rat-catcher from Hameln who could hypnotize rats (and children) with his magic flute.  This legend was born about 1284, so we can be pretty sure rats were common in some parts of Europe at that time.

Rats origin
Rats origin

Hero rats from Africa
Everyone knows Hero Rats! You may have noticed they are bigger than pet rats, have different ears and smaller eyes. It’s because they are african (or gambian) rats, in latin called Cricetomys from Muridae family. In Poland we call them “Wielkoszczury”, which can be translated as “Giant rats”, and there is some truth in that name because males from that spiece can weigh up to 3 kilos! Another interesting fact – there are four types of african rats. They can live in forests, fields or even in mountains. They also have something incommon with hamsters! It’s because of their cheeks adapted for storing food (Can you imagine your pet rats with storing food ability?!?). But maybe I will write you more about pet rats african cousins in other post.

One more rat
There is also an animal very similar to rat but it’s not actually a rat. In latin it’s called Arvicola and in polish we call him “water rat” (szczur wodny – chodzi o karczownika). It lives in Europe and Asia. It’s also a rodent, but his family is nearer to hamsters then to rats.

Author: Kasia