National Geographic : 1977 Jul
Rat lore: true and false Over the centuries rats have woven themselves into our lore and language, often fancifully, always pungently. * The dirty rat: With so degrad ing a life-style, can rats be other than filthy? Would tough-guy actor James Cagney angrily hiss, "You dirty mouse"? Yet this does the rat injustice. It is man's en vironment that soils the rodent; when caged, it spends a large part of each day grooming. * The rat race: Running, running, running in the treadmills of their cages, sometimes twenty miles a day, rats epitomize those frenetic times when action seems more im portant than results. But even the swiftest rat is no racer: The Guin ness book of animal records logs the top speed at six miles an hour. * Rats as big as cats: Never; they just seem so. Even the largest Nor way rats weigh less than two pounds; house cats average eleven. * Rats leave a sinking ship: Prob ably true. Not through occult prophetic powers, but because their homes in the bilges flood first, driving them to safety. * A cornered rat will fight like... well, a cornered rat: True, and beware. With escape blocked, a desperate rat may spring at its at tacker, be it cat, dog, or man. * Rat armies wage war: Perhaps rat population explosions spawned the myths of rodent "nations" marching into battle. In reality, rats rarely cooperate; a pair struggling to carry away food usually tug in different directions. The murderous rat masses that swarmed on their human victims in the movie thriller Willard were actually after the peanut butter smeared on the actors' bodies. They fed on his rice, now he will dine on them. After a day in the fields near San Antonio, Luzon, a Filipino farmer heads for home, his supper in his hand.