The Norway rat is among us in more ways than one. We all know them as pests, or we’ve seen them scurrying in the streets of a large city, but they are also the first mammal that was domesticated for research purposes. This rodent is extremely adaptable, being able to survive in almost every single environment on Earth, following us pretty much everywhere we’ve made settlements.
The Norway rat has many other names, including the wharf rat, water rat, city rat, Hanover rat, sewer rat, common rat and brown rat. It prefers to live close to humans, and it has evolved to live among us over the millennia. As such, these rats are very difficult to eradicate once they enter an ecosystem, even with modern methods. They have a huge reproductive capacity, a ferocious appetite, and an ability to survive in adverse and unsanitary conditions. They also damage property, spread disease, and spoil food supplies.
However, contrasting this bad image, the Norway rat is an archetypal model organism in the laboratory. These rats were used in a wide variety of fields, ranging from toxicology to physiology and neuroscience. They were first domesticated for lab use 170 years ago, and they are great for this purpose due to their ability to thrive in captivity, their short reproductive cycle, low breeding costs and widespread availability.
Given the name, you would assume that this rat species originates in Norway. However, that is not true. It is a species that hails from Asia. It is not exactly known why the name Norway rat stuck, but the common assumption is that John Berkenhout, an English naturalist, attributed the name Rattus norvegicus, or the Norway rat, to this species because of the belief that the rat migrated to England from Norway in 1728.
Over the years, many theorized the origin of this species, with some academics theorizing that it originated in Ireland, Gibraltar, or Persia. It was only in the 20th century that naturalists came to the conclusion that the species hails from central Asia, and likely China. Whether the rats spread by land or by sea is still unknown, but we do know that the brown rat reached Europe as early as 1553, and North America between 1750 and 1755. Since then, it has managed to cover the entire North American continent from coast to coast and top to bottom. This is why we have to deal with them today. Contact us if you have a Norway rat infestation that you want to get under control.