54            Brown or Norway Rat

                             MUS DECUMANUS.--Pall.
                              [Rattus norvegicus]

                              BROWN OR NORWAY RAT.
                                  [Norway Rat]

                     PLATE LIV.--MALES, FEMALE, AND YOUNG.

     Mus, cauda longissima squamata, corpore setoso griseo, subtus albido

     Grayish-brown above, dull white beneath, tail nearly as long as the body
feet not webbed; of a dingy white colour.


     MUS DECUMANUS, Pallas, Glir., p. 91-40.
     MUS DECUMANUS, Schreber, Saugthiere, p. 645.
     MUS DECUMANUS, Linn., Syst. Nat. ed. Gmel., t. p. 127.
     MUS AQUATICUS, Gesner's Quadr., p. 732.
     MUS DECUMANUS, Shaw's Genl. Zool., ii., p. 50 t. 130.
     SURMULAT, Buff., Hist. Nat. viii., p. 206 t. 27.
     MUS DECUMANUS, Cuv., Regne Animal, 1, p. 197.
     MUS DECUMANUS, Godman, vol. ii., p. 78.
     MUS DECUMANUS, Dekay, p. 79.
     MUS AMERICANUS, Dekay, American Black Rat, p. 81.


     Body, robust; head, long; muzzle, long, but less acute than that of the
black rat; eyes, large and prominent; moustaches, long, reaching to the cars;
ears, rounded and nearly naked; tail, generally a little shorter than the body,
(although occasionally a specimen may be found where it is of equal length,)
slightly covered with short rigid hairs.  There are four toes on each of the
fore-feet, with a scarcely visible rudimental thumb, protected by a small blunt
nail; five toes on each of the hind feet; the feet are clothed with short
adpressed hairs.  The fur seldom lies smooth, and the animal has a rough and not
an inviting appearance.


     Outer surface of the incisors, reddish-brown; moustaches, white and black;
the former colour preponderating; the few short scattered hairs along the outer
edges of the ear, yellowish brown; eyes, black; hair on the back, from the
roots, bluish-gray, then reddish-brown, broadly tipped with dark brown and
black.  On the under surface, the softer and shorter bair is from the roots
ashy-gray broadly tipped with white.


     1st.  We have on several occasions, through the kindness of friends,
received specimens of white rats which were supposed to be new species.  They
proved to be albinos of the present species.  Their colour was white throughout,
presenting the usual characteristics of the albino, with red eyes.  One of this
variety was preserved for many months in a cage with the brown rat, producing
young, that in this instance all proved to be brown.
     2d.  We have at different times been able to procure specimens of a
singular variety of this species that seems to have originated in this country.
For the first specimen we were indebted to our friend Dr. SAMUEL WILSON of
Charleston.  Two others were sent to us from the interior of South Carolina.  
One was presented to us by a cat, and another was caught in a trap.  In form, in
size, and in dentition, they are precisely like the brown rat.  The colour,
however, is on both surfaces quite black.  In some specimens there is under the
chest and on the abdomen, a longitudinal white stripe similar to those of the
mink.  The specimens, after being preserved for a year or two, lose their
intense black colour, which gradually assumes a more brownish hue.  We examined
a nest of the common brown rat containing 8 young, 5 of which were of the usual
colour, and 3 black.  The specinien obtained by Mr. BELL of New-York and
published by Dr. DEKAY, New-York Fauna, p. 81, under the name of Mus Americanus,
undoubtedly belonged to this variety, which appears to have of late years become
more common in the Southern than in the Northern States.  This is evidently not
a hybrid produced between Mus Decumanus and Alus Rattus, as those we have seen
present the shape and size of the former, only differing in colour.



     From point of nose to root of tail,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   10
     Tail,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    9
     From point of nose to ear,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    2 1/2
     Height of ear,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .      3/8


     The brown rat is unfortunately but too well known almost in every portion
of our country, and in fact throughout the world, to require an elaborate
account of its habits, but we will give such particulars as may we hope be
interesting.  It is one of the most prolific and destructive little quadrupeds
about the residences of man, and is as fierce as voracious.  Some cases are on
record where this rat has attacked a man when he was asleep, and we have seen
both adults and children who, by their wanting a piece of the ear, or a bit of
the end of the nose, bore painful testimony to its having attacked them while
they were in bed; it has been known to nibble at an exposed toe or finger, and
sometimes to have bitten even the remains of the shrouded dead who may have been
exposed to its attacks.
     The Norway Rat is very pugnacious, and several individuals may often be
seen fighting together, squealing, biting, and inflicting severe wounds on each
other.  On one occasion, we saw two of these rats in furious combat, and so
enraged were they, that one of them whose tail was turned towards us, allowed us
to seize him, which we did, giving him at the same time such a swing against a
gate post which was near, that the blow killed him instantly--his antagonist
making his escape.
     During the great floods or freshets which almost annually submerge the flat
bottom-lands on the Ohio river at various places, the rats are driven out from
their holes and seek shelter under the barns, stables, and houses in the
vicinity, and as the increasing waters cover the low grounds, may be seen taking
to pieces of drift wood and floating logs, &c., on which they sometimes remain
driving along with the currents for some distance.  They also at such times
climb up into the lofts of barns, smokehouses, &c., or betake themselves to the
trees in the orchards or gardens.  We once, at Shippingport, near the foot of
the falls of the Ohio river, whilst residing with our brother-in-law, the late
N. BERTHOUD, went out in a skiff, during a freshet which had exceeded those of
many previous years in its altitude, and after rowing about over the tops of
fences that were secured from rising with the waters by being anchored by large
cross-timbers placed when they were put up, under the ground, to which the posts
were dove-tailed, and occasionally rowing through floating worm-fences which had
broken away from their proper locations and were lying flat upon the Surface of
the flowing tide, we came to the orchard attached to the garden, and found the
peach and apple trees full of rats, which seemed almost as active in running
among the branches as squirrels.  We had our gun with us and tried to shoot some
of them, but the cunning rogues dived into the water whenever we approached, and
swam off in various directions, some to one tree and some to another, so that we
were puzzled which to follow.  The rats swam and dived with equal facility and
made rapid progress through the water.  Many of them remained in the orchard
until the freshet subsided, which was in the course of a few days.  Whether they
caught any fish or not during this time we cannot say, but most of them found
food enough to keep them alive until they were able once more to occupy their
customary holes and burrows.  During these occasional floods on our western
rivers, immense numbers of spiders and other insects take refuge in the upper
stories of the houses, and the inhabitants find themselves much incommoded by
them as well as by the turbulent waters around their dwellings.  Such times are,
however, quite holidays to the young folks, and skiffs and batteaux of every
description are in requisition, while some go about on a couple of boards, or
paddle from street to street on large square pine logs.  When the flats are thus
covered, there is generally but little current running on them, although the
main channel of the river flows majestically onward, covered with floating logs
and the fragments of sheds, haystacks, &c., which have left their quiet homes on
the sides of the river many miles above, to float on a voyage of discovery down
to the great Mississippi, unless stopped by the way by the exertions of some
fortunate discoverer of their value, who rowing out among the drifting logs,
roots and branches, ties a rope to the frail floating tenement, and tows it to
the trunk of a tree, where he makes it fast, for the water to leave it ready for
his service, when the river has again returned to its quiet and customary
channel.  Stray flat boats loaded with produce, flour, corn and tobacco, &c.,
are often thus taken up, and are generally found and claimed afterwards by their
owners.  The sight of the beautiful Ohio thus swelling proudly along, and
sometimes embracing the country with its watery margin extended for miles beyond
its ordinary limits, is well worth a trip to the West in February or March.  But
these high freshets do not occur every year, and depend on the melting of the
snows, which are generally dissolved so gradually that the channel of the river
is sufficient to carry them off.
     In a former work, (Omithological Biography, vol. 1, p. 155,) we have given
a more detailed account of one of the booming floods of the Ohio and Mississippi
rivers, to which we beg now to refer such of our readers as have never witnessed
one of those remarkable periodical inundations.
     Mr. OGDEN HAMMOND, formerly of Throg's Neck, near New-York, furnished us
with the following account of the mode in which the Norway Rat captures and
feeds upon the small sand clams which abound on the sandy places along the East
river below high water mark.  He repaired to a wharf on his farm with one of his
men at low water:  in a few moments a rat was seen issuing from the lower part
of the wharf, peeping cautiously around before he ventured from his hiding
place.  Presently one of the small clams buried in the soft mud and sand which
they inhabit, threw up a thin jet of water about a foot above the surface of the
ground, upon seeing which, the rat leaped quickly to the spot, and digging with
its fore-paws, in a few moments was seen bringing the clam towards his retreat,
where he immediately devoured it.
     When any of these clams lie too deep to be dug up by the rats, they
continue on the watch and dig after the next which may make known its
whereabouts by the customary jet of water.  These clams are about 3/4 of an inch
long and not more than 5/8 of an inch wide; their shells are slight, and they
are sometimes used as bait by fishermen.
     The Brown or Norway Rat was first introduced in the neighbourhood of
Henderson, Kentucky, our old and happy residence for several years, within our
     One day a barge arrived from New-Orleans (we think in 1811) loaded with
sugar and other goods; some of the cargo belonged to us.  During the landing of
the packages we saw several of these rats make their escape from the vessel to
the shore, and run off in different directions.  In a year from this time they
had become quite a nuisance; whether they had been reinforced by other
importations, or had multiplied to an incredible extent, we know not.  Shortly
after this period we had our smokehouse floor taken up on account of their
having burrowed under it in nearly every direction.  We killed at that time a
great many of them with the aid of our dogs, but they continued to annoy us, and
the readers of our Ornithological Biography are aware, that ere we left
Henderson some rats destroyed many of our valued drawings.
     This species migrates either in troops or singly, and for this purpose
takes passage in any conveyance that may offer, or it plods along on foot.  It
swims and dives well, as we have already remarked, so that rivers or
water-courses do not obstruct its progress.  We once knew a female to secrete
herself in a wagon, loaded with bale rope, sent from Lexington, (Ky.) to
Louisville, and on the wagon reaching its destination, when the coils of rope
were turned out, it was discovered that the animal had a litter of several young
ones:  she darted into the warehouse through the iron bars which were placed
like a grating in front of the cellar windows.  Some of the young escaped also,
but several of therm were killed by the wagoner.  How this rat was fed during
the journey we do not know, but as the wagons stop every evening at some tavern,
the probability is that she procured food for herself by getting out during the
night and picking up corn, &c.
     The Norway Rat frequently deserts a locality in which it has for some time
remained and proved a great pest.  When this is the case, the whole tribe
journey to other quarters, keeping together and generally appearing in numbers
in their new locality without any previous warning to the unlucky farmer or
housekeeper to whose premises they have taken a fancy.
     When we first moved to our retreat, nine miles above the city of New-York,
we had no rats to annoy us, and we hoped it would be some time before they
discovered the spot where we had located ourselves.  But in the course of a few
months a great many of them appeared, and we have occasionally had eggs,
chickens and ducklings carried off by them to the number of six or more in a
night.  We have never been able to get rid of this colony of rats, and they have
even made large burrows in the banks on the water side, where they can hardly be
     The Norway Rat is quite, abundant in New-York and most other maritime
cities, along the wharves and docks, and becomes very large.  These animals are
frequently destroyed in great numbers, while a ship is in port, after her cargo
has been discharged, by smoking them; the fumes of sulphur and other suffocating
materials, being confined to the hold by closing all parts, windows and hatches.
After a thorough cleaning out, a large ship has been known to have had many
thousands on board.  Our old friend, Capt. CUMINGS, who in early life made many
voyages to the East Indies, relates to us, that one of his captains used to have
rats caught, when on long voyages, and had them cooked and served up at his
table as a luxury.  He allowed his sailors a glass of grog for every rat they
caught, and as the supply was generally ample, he used to invite his mates and
passengers to partake of them with due hospitality.  Our friend, who was a mate,
had a great horror of the captain's invitations, for it was sometimes difficult
to ascertain in what form the delicate animals would appear, and to avoid eating
them.  Not having ourselves eaten rats, (as far as we know,) we cannot say
whether the old India captain's fondness for them was justified by their
possessing a fine flavour, but we do think prejudices are entertained against
many animals and reptiles that are, after all, pretty good eating.
     In the account of the black rat in our first volume, (Mus rattus,) pp. 190,
191, and 192, we gave some details of the habits of the present species, and
stated our opinion in regard to its destroying the black rat.  Dr. GODMAN
considered the Norway Rat so thorough an enemy of the black rat, that he says,
(vol. 2, p. 83,) in speaking of the latter, that it is now found only in
situations to which the Brown Rat has not extended its migrations.  According to
the same author, who quotes R. SMITH, Rat Catcher, p. 5, 1768, (see GODMAN, VOI.
2, p. 77,) the Brown Rat was not known even in Europe prior to the year 1750.
RICHARDSON says, (probably quoting from HARLAN, Fauna, p. 149,) that it was
brought from Asia to Europe, according to the accounts of historians of the
seventeenth century, and was unknown in England before 1730.  PENNANT, writing
in 1785, says he has no authority for considering it an inhabitant of the new
continent (America).  HARLAN states that the Norwegian rat did not, as he was
credibly informed, make its appearance in the United States any length of time
previous to the year 1775.  HARLAN does not give the Brown Rat as an American
species, giving only what he considered indigenous species.
     The Brown Rat brings forth from 10 to 15 young at a litter, and breeds
several times in a year.  Fortunately for mankind, it has many enemies:
weasels, skunks, owls, hawks, &c., as well as cats and dogs.  We have never
known the latter to eat them, but they may at times do so.  Rats are also killed
by each other, and the weak ones devoured by the stronger.
     This species becomes very fat and clumsy when living a long time in mills
or warehouses.  We have often seen old ones so fat and inactive that they would
fall back when attempting to ascend a staircase.
     We will take our leave of this disagreeable pest, by saying, that it is
omnivorous, devouring with equal voracity meat of all kinds, eggs, poultry,
fish, reptiles, vegetables, &c.  It prefers eels to other kinds of fish,
having been known to select an eel out of a large bucket of fresh fish, and drag
it off to its hole.  In vegetable gardens it devours melons, cucumbers, &c., and
will eat into a melon, entering through a hole large enough to admit its body,
consuming the tender sweet fruit, seeds and all, and leaving the rind almost
perfect.  Where rats have gained access to a field or vegetable garden, they
generally dig holes near the fruits or vegetables, into which they can make an
easy retreat at the approach of an enemy.
     We have represented several of these rats in our plate about to devour
muskmelons, for which they have a strong predilection.

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     The Mus Decumanus is found in all the temperate parts of the world where
man has been able to carry it in ships.  It has not as yet penetrated into the
fur countries, to the Rocky Mountains and California.  The Neotoma Drummondi
would probably be able to destroy it, being quite as fierce and much larger,
should its wanderings lead it into the territory occupied by the latter.  The
Brown or Norway Rat is met with almost every where from Nova Scotia to and
beyond our southern range, except in the western and northern regions above
mentioned, and there even it will soon be found in California, at the mouth of
the Columbia river, and among the settlements in Oregon.

                                GENERAL REMARKS.

     We had assigned to LINNAEUS the credit of having been the first describer
of the Brown Rat.  On turning however to his 12th edition, we find no notice of
this species.  In a subsequent edition published by GMELIN in 1778, a
description is added.  It had however been previously described by PALLAS in
1767 under the name which it still retains.  He is therefore entitled to the