Rat (Black) / Rattus rattus

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Black rats arrived in Britain with the Romans 2,000 years ago in ships and crates of cargo

Fleas on black rats brought the plague to Europe in the Middle Ages, when they came with the last Crusaders returning from the Holy Land in 1348.

The Black Death killed over half the population of England at that time.

The black rat, also commonly known as the ship rat, originated in Asia but rapidly spread around the world due to human activities. It was once widespread in Britain until the brown rat was introduced in the 18th century. It is now restricted to Lundy Island, some small Hebridean Islands and around Avonmouth near Bristol and Southwark in London. ItÂ’s British population numbers around 1,300 and the question of whether it should now receive a level of protection is a highly contentious issue.

The black rat is nocturnal, and omnivorous feeding on seeds, fruit, grain, insects, carrion, refuse and faeces. It does, however, prefer plant matter. The black rat lives in groups called ‘packs’, consisting of several males and two or more dominant females. Packs normally number 20-60 individuals. Skilled climbers, they often construct their nests of grass and twigs in roof spaces, hence their alternative name of ‘roof rat’.

Breeding takes place between March and November and females often produce up to five litters of five to eight pups during this period. A single female can therefore produce a huge number of offspring during her lifetime. Young rats are sexually mature at five weeks. In the wild the is species normally lives no more than 18 months to 2 years.