Three rats, in search of an attention

I witnessed a rat physically learn something the other day. I got the see the actual moment where that last little neuron made the connection in his brain. Well, second-hand, at least; sometimes the rats haven't really got their heads screwed on straight, but their calvaria are all firmly in place.

I've switched rooms in the apartment, and since my new one doesn't have a scalding hot radiator for them to get stuck under or any outlets low enough for them to jam their little noses into, I've been shutting all the doors and clearing the floor of delicious things and letting them just run around while I work on stuff at the desk. They have the entire open floor of my bedroom to waddle around on, so of course they spend most of their time clustered in the packing box I've given them for a home base, chewing on each other under a tatty blanket. I always know where at least two of them are without looking, just by following the indignant >SQK!< >SQK!< noises.

Kirk decided after a while that he was bored of forcibly washing his brothers, and ventured out. The footwell of the desk was apparently appealingly dark, and it had some big warm things it it that smelled like Mommy, i.e, my feet. (I'm still not sure they believe that all the hands and feet really belong to me. How can one creature get so big? They're tiny, and they don't always know where all their various limbs are.) I was still wearing the jeans I'd had on for that evening's trip to the store, so of course he started snuffling around the hems and trying to eat whatever infinitesimal bits of the outside he found there.

He soon  stumbled onto the idea that he had claws and could maybe climb the pants to see what was up there. I let him scrabble at my kneecap for a bit before I just scooped him up and deposited him on my lap. I scritched for a little while until Kirk got tired of sitting still, then I let him slither ungracefully down my shins onto his blanket again, so he could trundle around on the floor.

A little while later, he got bored of floor and again fetched up under my desk. He ate some more outside from my pant ends, then gave scrambling up my calves another go. I scraped his pudgy corpus up again, asked him what he wanted, plopped him on my lap, and scritched until he was bored of snoozing on my hand and decided he wanted down.

Kirk shuffled into the corner under my desk, and then had a brainwave. He came back and nibbled on my sock. I bapped him on the head with my toe. He tried it again, and got the same result. Hmm, he went. Then he backed up, took a waddling start, and hurled himself bodily at my leg, whereupon I did the same thing I did the first two times, and collected him in a fat little ball of rat on my lap, under the drawer I've got the temporary keyboard braced on. Apparently this was just a test, since he wriggled down almost immediately and went off to do whatever it was they get up to in their floor-box under the blanket.

So now at least one of them knows that flinging himself at my pants means up, Mommy, UP! One of the things I love most about rats is that once they tumble onto something, they will devote every last fiber of their tiny furry little beings to figuring it out, just in case it results in food or attention. And even if it doesn't, they're quite happy to have done it -- I've stood across the room and watched more than one rat be very proud of himself for conniving a way onto the Forbidden Shelf before realizing he has no idea what to do here, or how to get back to where he was.

(They're also very quick to figure out when they shouldn't get up to a particular thing while you're watching. The Ratketeers we had in Flagstaff were under the impression that "Bookcase!" was a verb that meant 'turn right around and amble casually back the way you came, as if you weren't about to go climbing all over the expensive hardcovers'. I haven't formally trained the Bridge Crew, but they all seem to know that when I click my fingernails at them it means 'stop whatever you're doing under the bed there and come out where I can see you'.)

Since then, of course, the other two have witnessed me picking Kirk up after he tugs on my pajama pants, and have decided to try the magic trick for themselves. The only problem is that they hate sharing my lap. As soon as I scoop the second one up, the first one slides down my shins in a huff. Then maybe three minutes later, he forgets why he did that and recommences testing upmommyUP! for himself, and the other one exits stage down. Then the third one wants to know what's going on, with the end result being that I have this sort of constantly-circulating stream of rat to deal with, and I don't get any typing done at all until they go home.


  1. I love rats. We have three boys, and sadly they're in separate cages at the moment because one of the two paired rats started getting beat up on by his brother, and the third was from another litter entirely so they tend to fight if they see each other.
    But we made our own cage for the two rats we got first, and some person online suggested using zipties to hold the sides together, so we did. Which gave me a fascinating look into how good these little guys are at problem-solving. There were a ton of zipties on the thing, but they selectively chewed ONLY the ones that actually gave the cage structural integrity; ties holding the sides together. It was really neat to watch them do that. Kurrie, our youngest rat, is the most socialized and spent most of his early days in hoodies. He's very good at grooming our skin, or whatever bits he can find. And it's adorable giving him food on my finger; he knows fingers are off-limits so he has to scrape/lick whatever it is off of it. If it's entirely covered he can't always tell, but he's careful biting so the moment he touches skin he figures it out. So cute =)

    1. These guys are all brothers. A lady a couple towns over was holding a female in quarantine for someone else, and one morning woke up to find she had about ten more rats than she intended to have -- whoops. I attempted to just own two of them, but another adopter backed out at the last minute, and I ended up with a matched set of four. One of them has since been lost to Mysterious Rat Causes (he went to sleep one day and simply didn't wake up), but the other three are fat and happy. They don't fight seriously; they chew on each other so much, I expect, because rats have not evolved sturdy enough knuckles to deliver noogies.

      They are thoroughly domesticated. I don't bother to close their cage anymore. It's on a stand and they show no inclination to jump for the floor on their own, but they do enjoy being able to climb onto the roof of their house and nap. One of them likes to sleep on the top of the cage, on top of the blanket I have thrown over it, on his back, missing only a tiny hand-lettered sign that says DEPOZIT TUMY RUBZ HEER. They have absolutely no idea that the rest of the animal kingdom considers them snack food on feet.

      Their usual reaction to being handed to a stranger is to smell absolutely everything for a bit, then crawl around the back of their neck and start grooming their hair. This is apparently rather disconcerting to people used to more bitey rodents like hamsters and guinea pigs. I keep telling people they have the personalities of tiny dogs, and apparently the rats have Googled this and gotten somewhat confused, because when I scritch them now they insist on continuously licking whatever part of me they can get at. I assume it's social grooming, because the alternative is that my hands are absolutely filthy by rat standards, and that, I don't even want to contemplate.

  2. oh, god - this made me fall about laughing. i had no idea you keep rats, but i'm delighted that you do if this post is the result. i miss having rats so much, and reading brought back all the delightful memories they gave me. thank you, Ari. :)

    1. You're welcome! I have a tumblr at where I post random photos of my current and past rats whenever I happen to take/find them. Feel free to browse whenever you need more tiny furry things in your life.

  3. The kittens have figured out the same thing. Except their claws are far, far sharper. D:


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