Rat: How the World's Most Notorious Rodent Clawed its Way to the top Paperback – Apr 15 2006
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The very word rat can make your flesh crawl as your mouth curls in revulsion. And with a rat population worldwide that outnumbers humans, there is almost no place to go (except Antarctica) to escape rats. As journalist Langton points out in his introductory chapter, rats can do something most other species of animals cannot--they can compete with humans and win. In this engrossing, quick read, Langton leads the reader through the world of the black and brown rats that have formed commensal relationships with humans. Rats are the main vector for the bubonic plague when their infected fleas leave dying rats and then bite humans. Rats eat our food, helping themselves not only to scraps and garbage but also to our stored grain. On the other hand, rats are extremely valuable subjects for medical research because their internal systems are so similar to ours. In chatty prose, Langton discusses every phase of rat-human interactions. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Does the fun ever cease?” ---The Toronto Star
“A very creepy and entertaining book.” ---John Oakley, AM640 Toronto Radio
“This intriguing exposé into the habits and amazing history of the rat is entertaining and informative.” ---Scribes
“Appallingly informative.” ---Brian Bethune, Maclean’s
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Inexplicably, in the first chapter's lengthy discussion of the biology of rats and their impacts on humans, there is no hint that there exist multiple species of rats worldwide; in fact, it's implied that the singular "rat" originated in the swampy jungles of southeast Asia [actually, the now-worldwide Norway rat, Rattus norvegicus, first appeared in what is now northern China and Mongolia] and simply adapted (p. 16) or mutated (p. 18) so as to be able to survive in diverse environments.
Factual errors about rats include the following: all female rats over 6 months of age are "almost certainly pregnant" (p. 17); rats "can swivel their ears and, by measuring and comparing differences in intensity, triangulate and accurately estimate the site of a sound's origin" (p. 20); "Wild rats can swim well enough to catch fish" (p. 22); distribution of the black rat (R. rattus; "roof rat" or "ship rat") is limited to "just a few colonies in the palm trees above Los Angeles and a few other warm-weather cities" (p. 54); transmission of rat-bite fever to humans is normally through contact with rat urine (p. 72) [actually, it is primarily through bites]; and, small rats can squeeze through a hole the size of a pencil (p. 190).
The most blatant error occurs in the author's retelling of how an endangered flightless duck, the Campbell Island teal, was saved from extinction in New Zealand, where Norway rats had nearly decimated the species. Langton writes that a "park ranger" captured two ducks in 1976: "These... appeared to be all that was left of the species. Both were female, but... one (later named Daisy...) was pregnant [and] ...eventually gave birth to a number of litters--twenty-four ducklings in all" (p. 136-7). In reality, biologists first re-discovered the remnant teal population (thought at the time to number 30-50 birds) in the mid-1970s, but none were captured to initiate captive breeding efforts until 1984. Success was not achieved until 1994, when a pair (then dubbed "Donald" and "Daisy") successfully nested. "Daisy" successfully raised 24 offspring, but ducks don't "give birth" to "litters", and there's no such thing as a "pregnant duck".
Other faulty statements or implications are: "a female rat can, under good conditions, have well over 100,000 babies in her lifetime" (book jacket) [actually, 60 pups per year for a maximum of 3 years is a generous estimate]; during the mid 14th century as plague swept through Europe, "streets were clogged with cholera-infected corpses..." (p. 27); regarding discovering the cause of plague, "modern scientific method managed to isolate the virus, the flea, and the rat" (p. 28) [oddly, on p. 61 the author correctly names plague's causative agent at "a rod-shaped bacterium known... as Yersinia pestis"]; while rats are growing in numbers and distribution in the face of human activity, "virtually every other non-domesticated animal is rapidly vanishing" (p. 29); "A mouse is a smaller and far less complex animal than a rat... it doesn't impact the lives of humans on nearly the same level" (p. 30); "the brown rat lives generally underground" (p. 42); a century ago, black rats [R. rattus] ranged all over the United States and into Canada (p. 54); in the U.S., brown rats [R. norvegicus] are considered... the second most dangerous carrier of hantavirus (p. 74); "Although dogs and cats can contract plague, there has never been a record of a human receiving plague from contact with either animal" (p. 85) [actually, in the western U.S. from 1977 to 1998, there were 23 cases of cat-associated human plague, of which 5 were fatal]; coyote-dog mixes are commonplace in areas where both animals exist (p. 102) [actually, they are rare].
While the book is certainly entertaining, a good portion of it should be considered fiction.