Types of Rats

Bill Swank
First Published: | Updated: February 27, 2024

There are several types of rats, each with unique characteristics and habitats. This post will introduce you to the most common species, such as the Norway Rat and the Roof Rat, along with lesser-known varieties. By understanding the different types of rats, we can better appreciate their diversity and adaptability in various environments, as well as tailor control methods for specific species.

  • Rats belong to the family Muridae and are classified under the genus Rattus, with dozens of species that are still being researched and accurately classified.
  • Domestic rat breeds, such as those derived from the Norway rat, have been selectively bred for specific traits and are distinct from wild rat species in both behavior and physical characteristics.
  • Wild and field rats display a variety of adaptations that allow them to thrive in diverse environments, from rural fields to urban areas, with significant differences in behavior and habitat preferences compared to domestic rats.
  • The geographical distribution of rat species is influenced by factors such as climate, human activity, and food availability, leading to varied species presence across continents, like the brown rat’s prevalence in cooler urban areas versus the black rat’s dominance in warmer coastal regions.
  • Rats are part of the order Rodentia and have distinct characteristics such as continuously growing incisors and a high metabolism, with a complex evolutionary history that reflects their adaptability to various environments.

Diversity and Number of Rat Species

The world is home to numerous rat species, each with unique traits that help them thrive in their respective habitats. The question “How many types of rats are there?” is not easily answered due to the ongoing discovery of new species and the challenge of accurately classifying them. While “different types of rats” can refer to a broad spectrum, it is generally accepted that there are dozens of species classified under the genus Rattus. The precise number of rat kinds, however, remains a subject of scientific research and debate.

A brief overview of rat taxonomy reveals that these creatures belong to the family Muridae, which includes a variety of rodents. The challenge in quantifying rat species arises from their widespread distribution and adaptability, which has led to rapid evolution and speciation.

Rat Breeds and Domestic Varieties

When we talk about “different breeds of rats,” we are typically referring to the domesticated varieties kept as pets. Unlike wild rat species, domestic rats have been selectively bred for specific traits, resulting in a variety of “rat types” that are popular among pet owners. These domestic rats often exhibit a range of colors, coat types, and temperaments.

The brown rat breeds, for example, are descendants of the Norway rat and have been bred for their docile nature and unique markings. It’s crucial to understand the difference between breeds and species—a breed is a specific genetic variation within a species, often with distinctive physical characteristics or behaviors.

Types of Rats

Rats come in various species with distinct characteristics that set them apart from one another. Here, we expand on the common types of rats, providing a deeper understanding of their unique attributes and behaviors.

Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus)

The Norway Rat, also known as the brown rat, sewer rat, or wharf rat, is one of the most familiar species around the world. These robust rodents are larger than most of their cousins, with a body that can measure up to 10 inches in length, not including the tail. They have coarse brown or grey fur, small ears, and a blunt snout. Norway rats are notorious for their burrowing habits, which can undermine building foundations and cause extensive damage. They are also known for their aggressive behavior, especially when competing for food or territory.

Black Rat (Rattus rattus)

Image Credit: Green Home Pest Control

The Black Rat, or roof rat, is smaller and more agile than the Norway rat. With a sleeker build, they typically measure 5 to 7 inches in length and are characterized by their light build, large ears, and pointed snout. Their agility makes them excellent climbers, which is why they are often found in the upper parts of buildings or trees. Historically, they have been associated with the spread of the bubonic plague and are still considered a significant pest today.

Pack Rat (Neotoma spp.)

Pack Rats, native to North America, are known for their peculiar habit of collecting shiny objects to stash in their dens. Their nests are often elaborate, constructed with a variety of materials they gather. They have bushy tails and relatively large ears, with fur that can vary in color from grey to brown. These rats are more solitary than other species and can be quite territorial.

Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys spp.)

Image Credit: Angus McNab/Flickr

Kangaroo Rats are not typical rats but received their name due to their remarkable jumping ability, thanks to their powerful hind legs and long tails. These small rodents are adapted to desert environments and have some fascinating adaptations, such as the ability to survive with very little water. They are primarily seed eaters and can be recognized by their large heads and eyes, small ears, and fur-lined cheek pouches for carrying food.

Cotton Rat (Sigmodon spp.)

Image Credit: iNaturalist

Cotton Rats are found throughout Central and North America, often in areas with dense vegetation. They get their name from their frequent presence in cotton fields, where they not only feed on the cotton but can also cause significant damage to crops. They have a stocky build, short legs, and a relatively short tail. Cotton rats are known for their aggressive nature when threatened and are prolific breeders.

Pouched Rat (Cricetomys spp.)

Image Credit: iNaturalist

The Pouched Rat, hailing from Africa, is known for its cheek pouches that are used to carry food, similar to hamsters. These rats can grow quite large, reaching up to 3 feet in length, including the tail. They have a gentle disposition compared to other rat species and are sometimes kept as pets. Pouched rats have been trained in some countries to detect landmines due to their keen sense of smell.

Polynesian Rat (Rattus exulans)

Image Credit: Wikipedia

The Polynesian Rat is smaller and more slender than the Norway and black rats. It is native to Southeast Asia but has spread to many Pacific islands, often with human assistance. These rats are less of a pest in urban areas but can pose a significant threat to agriculture and native wildlife on islands where they have been introduced. They have a lighter build and are known for their ability to adapt to a variety of environments, from forests to human settlements.

Wild and Field Rats: Habitats and Characteristics

Inquiries about “types of wild rats” lead us to the natural habitats of these resourceful animals. Field rats, which include species like the American field rat, are often found in rural areas and are known for their ability to adapt to various environments. The size of field rats can vary, but they are generally smaller than the common brown rat.

The distinction between “farm rat vs house rat” is particularly important in pest control. Farm rats typically inhabit outdoor areas and may burrow or nest in fields, while house rats prefer the sheltered environments of human dwellings. Wild rats have developed specific traits that enable them to survive in their chosen habitats, contrasting with urban or domestic rats which may rely on human activity for sustenance.

Geographical Distribution and Species Diversity

When discussing the geographical distribution of rats, it’s fascinating to note how different species have adapted to various regions across the globe. The term “North American rats” encompasses species that are native to or have become established in North America. However, “different species of rats” can be found on almost every continent, with each species playing a unique role in its ecosystem.

Factors influencing the distribution of rat species include climate, human activity, and the availability of food sources. For instance, the well-known “brown rat vs black rat” comparison highlights how these two species have spread far and wide due to their ability to stow away on ships, leading to the black rat’s dominance in warmer, coastal regions and the brown rat’s prevalence in cooler, urban areas.

What Is a Group of Rats Called?

A group of rats is called “mischief.” This term captures the often perceived troublesome nature of these rodents when they gather in groups, especially in human environments where they can cause significant damage and spread diseases.

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