Keeping and caring for rodents

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Known to inhabit all continents except Antarctica and comprising more than 40 percent of all known mammal species on Earth, members of the order Rodentia—including but not limited to mice, rats, squirrels, porcupines, beavers, gerbils and capybaras—comprise a prolific and highly diversified biological niche thanks to our uncanny ability to adapt and thrive in many less-desirable areas where most other land-based vertebrates either cannot or will not. 

But do we make good pets?

Although I can’t speak on behalf of all rats when it comes to characterizing the domestic traits of the particular breed of bewhiskered bounders to which I belong, you would be hard-pressed to find a more cognizant, well-seasoned proponent.  

Physiologically speaking, compared to our much longer and leaner outdoor adventure-loving kinfolk Rattus fluvia (river rats) and Rattus mura (wall rats) we trail rats—Rattus semita—are equipped with short limbs, stumpy tails and exceptionally robust fur-bearing bodies that lend themselves in no small way to enhancing our namesake proclivity for constructing and maintaining boundless miles of rustic single-track thorough variably complex terrain.

Thanks to an evolutionary anomaly that occurred during a catastrophic lightning strike on an old pack-rat-infested miner’s cabin where two members of the Mt. Baker Ranger District trail crew happened to be sorting through a horde of metal-bearing quartz crystals one fateful storm-wracked night during the summer of 1927, Rattus semita are unique among the vermin species of the world for being exceptionally well-endowed with muscular forepaws and opposable thumbs.

Thus, instead of congregating around residential areas, industrial zones and retail centers like our speedier but considerably less dexterous big-city cousins are wont to do, we prefer to spend summers camping outside and working our haunches off at remote project locations deep in the mountains, as far away from paved roads and the generalized hustle-bustle of modern society as possible. 

The onset of winter, however, inevitably exerts profound and immediate effects upon our migratory patterns, which do tend to vary considerably depending on climatic preferences.

A significant faction of my compatriots migrate to warmer equatorial locations, where they lord over sun-soaked beaches with plenty of cold drinks and exotic fruit to whet their whiskers for a song.

Tempting as that sounds, I seldom find sufficient cause to leave the City of Subdued Excitement during the off-season anymore.

Ever since a kindly lady welcomed me into her household many moons ago, I have contented myself with the joys of having an entire food/water dish to myself—not to mention a cozy second-story den replete with bookshelves, desk and a bed with a big sack of goose feathers to help insulate my hairless parts.

It’s a pretty cush life for a glorified rodent, just as long as I don’t shed too much fur on the loveseat or let our Maine coon house cat zero in on me whenever I go scurrying around the kitchen at midnight to inhale crumbly bits of my favorite crackers and cheese.

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