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Black Rat (Rattus rattus)

Diputación de Málaga
Rata negra MA NT

Black Rat (Rattus rattus)

Reproduction Zeal Topping Hibernation
Animal Life > Mammals


It is a medium sized (head-body length 7 to 11cm) rodent (animal with a pair of incisor teeth in continuous growth), smaller than the brown rat. It has a grey coat, almost black, a bit lighter on the belly. The head is small with a pointed snout and large ears (bigger than the brown rat's ones). The tail is long (9 to 24 cm), bigger than the body-length, and covered by scaly rings. There is no differences between sexes, although males are slightly bigger than females.

Where does it live?

This species is native to Southeast Asia; it colonized Europe in the 8th century and arrived in America in ships, expanding all over the world. It is a human's banqueter but it occupies more rural and less humanized means than the brown rat. This other species displaced it from the cities and expelled it to the countryside or the high areas of the urban environment. It does not dig underground tunnels. It uses tree holes, abandoned birds nests, hollows in buildings and roofs, or makes nests within the scrub in wet lands (brambles or cane fields). It can climb very well but it avoids swimming.

How does it live?

It is an omnivore animal. It feeds on fruit and seeds, although it also benefits from waste and rubbish. It catches small insects and molluscs. It is a very sociable animal, organised in groups controlled by a dominant male. They are less territorial and aggressive than the brown rats. They have night habits.

How does it reproduce?

Rats mate all year round. They are very premature. They are sexually active at the age of 5 or 6 weeks Each female can have from 3 to 5 litters per year. From 5 to 16 offspring are born in each litter. They live a bit longer than brown rats, being able to rise to 18 months longevity.

Where can we see in Málaga?

This species is present in the whole Málaga province. It is a common and abundant species, but less than the brown rat. We can find it on almost every stage of the Great Path (Gran Senda).

Curious facts

The black rat is famous for being the carrier of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that transmits the bubonic plague or black plague. Actually, it is not the rats that carry the bacteria, but fleas that use the rat as a host. The plague is not transmitted by the rat's bite. In the 14th century, the plague caused more than twenty thousand deaths.  It is currently considered eradicated, partly because the bacterium that transmits it has changed to another less virulent form, and not because there are fewer rats. In fact, rats are very important in the ecosystem, especially after the rabbit retreats, since they have become a key prey for the survival of many threatened predators.

Similar species

It can be confused with the brown rat. This rat is bigger, with a stronger body, a shorter tail, larger ears and a blunt snout. The brown rat occupies more urban habitats than the black rat, living mostly at ground level.

Routes where it can be observed

More information