Rodents are a very interesting class of mammal which are distinguished from other mammals by their pair of continuously growing incisors located on both the upper and lower jaws. Since these incisors never stop growing, rodents must constantly wear them down by gnawing away at various objects in order to avoid having the incisors eventually pierce their skull. In fact, the term rodent was given to this mammal class as a result of their constant chewing, being derived from the Latin word rodere, which means “to gnaw”.
They are found on every continent except Antarctica, representing approximately 40 percent of all mammals on earth. Most rodent species are small with tiny limbs and long tails probably the most well known species being the mouse, but there are also some that are quite large such as the porcupine and capybara.
Although rodents are mostly regarded to be notorious pests, humans also use rodents for various beneficial purposes including for clothing, as food, as pets, to worship and as laboratory animals in research. This article will examine three very interesting rodent species, explaining their physical features, habitat and how humans regard them.
The black rat is the most well known and interesting sub-species of rats which originated in India but have since spread to countries all around the world. What makes the black rat such an interesting animal is that they are viewed in so many different ways around the world and throughout history.
Black rats are medium sized rats with thin grayish-black hair covering the top part of their body and gray hair on the bottom part of their body. One of the key features that differentiates this rat from others, aside from the obvious hair colour, is that their tail is approximately 110 percent longer than their head and body length combined. A typical adult can weigh anywhere from 5 to 10 ounces with a total body and tail length reaching up to 17 inches.
Being one of the most widespread animals in the world, the black rat is extremely adaptable creatures that can be found living in a wide range of habitats. Some of the places that black rats call home include:
- In urban areas such as wall voids of residential buildings, warehouses and malls
- In agricultural areas such as in barns, food storage units and crop fields
- In the wild living in caves, on cliffs, on trees, in burrowed holes in the ground and pretty much anywhere else that they can hide from predators
How humans regard black rats
As mentioned above, depending on who you ask, and of course what part of the world they are from, black rats are viewed in many different lights. Here are some interesting facts of how people regard black rats around the world and throughout history:
- Black rats as pests – Most of the world undoubtedly regards black rats, and all rats for that matter, as notorious pests that can spread disease, cause structural damage to buildings and devour large food storages. In fact, the black plague, which was one of the worst pandemics in human history, killing an estimated 75 to 200 million people during the 14th century, is believed to have spread as a direct result of black rats infesting Europe while carrying the infected oriental rat flea.
- Black rats as food – In parts of Africa and Vietnam you can find roasted rat on the menu at some restaurants, most commonly made from black or brown rats. Rat meat has also been found to be passed off as mutton meat in the illegal meat trade scandal that has been going on in China for the past few years.
- Worshipping black rats – This one may sound odd but it’s true. In Rajasthan India, there is a famous hindu temple called the Karni Mata Temple, also known as the Temple of the Rats. This temple is home to approximately 20,000 black rats, known as kabbas to those who worship them. The temple attracts visitors from all over the world, most commonly Hindus who come to receive a blessing from the rats.
Guinea pigs are a species of rodent that, although their name may suggest it, are not related to pigs nor are they from Guinea. They originated in the Andes of South America and are descendants of a similar rodent species who were domesticated thousands of years ago. Guinea pigs are not considered as pests in any region of the world, but are kept as pets or raised for consumption.
Guinea pigs are medium-large rodents with adults reaching lengths of up to 20 inches and weighing up to one kilogram. Their entire body is covered in a soft and fluffy fur varying in colours such as brown, black and white, or any combination of those colours. Unlike most other rodent species, guinea pigs do not have a tail.
Since they are descendants of domesticated cavies, guinea pigs are not found in the wild. In North America and Europe they most commonly live as a house pet, usually kept in a reasonably sized cage with one or two other guinea pigs. In Latin America on the other hand, they live on guinea pig farms where they are raised a prime meat, being a popular delicacy in Peru and some other Latin American countries.
How humans regard guinea pigs
- Guinea pigs as pets – Because they have been domesticated for the entirety of their existence, guinea pigs have a very calm temperament around humans. This, along with their cute appearance and small body size, makes them the perfect low maintenance pet for children to play with. They are most commonly kept as pets in North America and usually kept with at least one other guinea pig since they are social creatures.
- Guinea pigs as food – Most commonly in Peru, guinea pigs are considered a delicacy. They are raised on guinea pig farms and prepared in high end restaurants, either being roasted whole, baked or deep fried. There is not much meat on a guinea pig, but if prepared properly can make for a very delicious and tender meal.
A very sought after rodent, chinchillas are native to the Andes mountains in South America. The Chincha people of the Andes used to wear the fur of these rodents and thus gave them the name chinchilla, which directly translates to little Chincha. In the past they lived high up in the Andes of Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, but nowadays you will only find wild chinchillas in the highlands of Chile.
Chinchillas are distinguished by their very thick and silky coat of fur which ranges in colour from black, white, gray, beige or any combination of these colours. Their bodies are a rounded shape with a long fluffy tail, large rounded ears and short limbs. A fully grown chinchilla can reach a body length of 10 inches combined with a tail length of 5 inches, weighing up to 1.5 lbs.
As mentioned above, chinchillas were originally found in the highlands of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru but since they were hunted excessively for their fur they almost became extinct, that is until conservation measures were put into place. In the wild, chinchillas live in dug out burrows or rock crevices which they can reach with their extraordinary jumping ability. They have also become domesticated in recent times to be raised on farms for their wonderful silky fur.
How humans regard chinchillas
The chinchilla is another rodent that is not regarded as a pest but instead as a beneficial animal for humans. Their beautiful fur is great for making clothing items and their calm temperament makes them great pets also.
- Chinchillas used for clothing – As far back as the 16th century, people used to hunt chinchillas for their thick, silky and warm fur. It was used to make luxury fur coats and coat linings for the most part. Due to over hunting, chinchillas reached near extinction until there were finally laws prohibiting the hunting of wild chinchilla. Now most of the chinchilla fur used in clothing is from farm raised chinchilla, however, there still is are illegal hunters putting pressure on the existence of the wild species.
- Chinchillas in scientific research – Another area where chinchillas are beneficial to humans is in scientific research. They have been used since the 1950’s in research studies relating to their auditory system, the study of chagas disease, pneumonia and listeriosis, to name a few.
- Chinchillas as pets – They are not the most ideal pet to have due to the special care they require but they do have a nice temperament and are a delight to pet. Some of the extensive care required is giving them adequate exercise while also monitoring their body temperature since they do not have the ability to sweat.