The Myth of the Rat King

Chuck Banner | March 24th, 2017

If you are eating right now, you might want to save this article for later. Despite the cute picture and the cartoonish-sounding title, rat kings are not adorable pet rats in fancy dress. On the contrary, what we know of rat kings is the stuff of nightmares.

A rat king is group of rats whose tails have become entwined, and the first known sighting of one was in Germany in 1564. It was once thought that rats would twine their tails together on purpose to stay warm in cold environments and to protect themselves. People believed that these rodents would operate as one animal, moving about to find food and water. Rats have undoubtedly been found in such a state, and you can even view some preserved specimens in a few museums around the world. Some particularly gruesome specimens contain 30 rats or more. The idea that these animals joined together by choice or for survival is where myth enters the picture.

haltonwildlife.ca
haltonwildlife.ca

Here’s where things get really gross. Rather than voluntarily tying their tails together, rat kings are formed when the animals end up stuck in cramped quarters for a period of time. They produce a greasy sebum, or body oil, that helps keep their skin hydrated and assists them in moving through tight spaces by greasing up surfaces. This substance can cause the rats to get bound together. In addition, urine and feces in large quantities could cause them to get glued together near the tail area. There was even a recorded case of a squirrel king in 2013, where some squirrels got matted together due to tree sap.

The animals do not benefit from this condition, either. In fact, if a pack of rats became joined in this way, they would likely die very quickly and in severe pain. Most rodents would simply chew their tails off to escape.

So, if rat king formation is not voluntary, and the animals could usually escape from the predicament, why are there so many specimens in museums? Some scholars believe that many are fakes, and that the tails of the animals were stuck together after they were killed. Alternatively, some of them could have been made up of rats too tangled and matted to escape and subsequently died in their entwined state. In any case, the poor animals certainly did not come together in order to form some super-survival rat-beast.

Until the formation of a rat king can be replicated in a lab, we probably won’t know everything about them. Oddly enough, there are researchers who want to study the phenomenon, but funding for such a study has not been forthcoming.

Because you were warned that this would get disgusting, here is a picture of a preserved rat king. Sweet dreams!

mancunianmatters.co.uk
mancunianmatters.co.uk
Next Article
  • Only One Person Has Ever Been Cured Of HIV

    Timothy Ray Brown known as the Berlin patient is the only known person to have been cured. The problem is no doctors actually know what part of the treatment cured him. In 2007 this was a real disappointment when doctors finally cured HIV but had no idea how they did it. And it took them...

    Read More
  • The Rock of Guatape

    In the Colombian department of Antioquia lodged between the towns of Guatape and El Penol you will find an enormous boulder known as The Rock Of Guatape. Or if you are from Penol, then you may refer to it as the Rock of Penol - just depends on which town you are from. [caption id="attachment_7956"...

    Read More
  • Pig Farmers Say Marijuana Pig Feed Is Better

    Some farmers have a very interesting take on the progression of growing cannabis and the growing legalization of marijuana around the United States. Many believe it is the perfect crop to be commercialized and used in their animal feed - too keep them happy and relaxed! And well if you...

    Read More
  • Telegraph Invented Due To Heartbreak

    The inventor of the telegraph Samuel Morse had quite a tough life that was filled with numerous disappointments and this may really have been one of the reasons he ended up inventing the telegraph. Samuel Morse was born 225 years ago and is known around the world for having invented...

    Read More
  • Colorful Honey Created Naturally By Candy Eating Bees

    A couple of beekeepers in northeastern France were left scratching their heads in confusion when their bees started to produce thick blue and green honey completely naturally. The bees from their hives were found producing honey in odd shades of blue and green - something that was completely unheard of and never seen before. [caption...

    Read More
  • The Sheepdogs That Protect The Little Penguins

    On an Australian Island, there was a strong and vibrant colony of little penguins - that was until the foxes came and nearly ate them all up. Luckily for the little penguins they had a farmer on their side who decided to come up with an amazing way to protect them, in fact, it is...

    Read More
  • The Grueling Gaokao Exam Is The Toughest In The World

    China’s college entrance exam known as the Gaokao is thought to be one of the toughest examinations in the whole world. If you want a spot in one of the 2,200 Chinese universities then you need to ace your Gaokao exam. And it goes much deeper than that, sure the exam decides the university ranking...

    Read More
  • Tiny Sweat Bees Will Try To Feed Off Your Tears

    Recently doctors treating a Taiwanese woman for a swollen eye were shocked to find that she had over four little bees living in her, under her eyelid and feeding off her tears. These tiny little bees are known as sweat bees and are only around 3 millimeters long, so are small enough to fit under...

    Read More