Dec
02
2007

Cancel your vacation plans! There’s a hot new destination on the map: Rat Island!

Come to Rat Island before this is all that's left!: They're pretty cute when they're alive.
Come to Rat Island before this is all that's left!: They're pretty cute when they're alive.Courtesy loungerie
Honestly, you know what would be more fun than Disney World? Rat Island. What has Disney got that Rat Island doesn’t? Mickey Mouse? Please - what’s one huge rodent compared to the thousands on Rat Island? You want rides? Use your imagination, and save the money. Plus, while Disney World will be there forever – after the nuclear apocalypse, the cockroaches will still be riding Space Mountain – Rat Island may not be around for much longer. Sure, the island itself will still exist, but the rats will be gone, and much that was beautiful on Rat Island will be lost. It’ll be like the elves leaving Middle Earth.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

JGordon, you say, we can’t all be as informed as you. What is Rat Island? Oh, it’s only an island covered in rats, located on the far southwest of the chain of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. It used to be covered in sea birds (Bird Island?), but in 1780 the very first brown rat scampered to shore from a grounded Japanese ship. Rats love birds, or at least their eggs, and so very soon the bird population fell from approximately “lots” to approximately “zero.” Also, it is estimated that one pair of breeding rats can produce a population of 5,000 rats in one year, so it didn’t take long before the rats could comfortably raise their flag over the island.

The particular variety of rat that has made Rat Island its home is the Norwegian rat, also known as the brown rat, the common rat, or the wharf rat. Or, as I like to call them, the plague rat, on account of their historical roles as reservoirs of bubonic plague. They are one of the largest varieties of rats in the world, occasionally reaching lengths of about 20 inches, and weighing over a pound. Despite their place-specific name, it’s unlikely that they actually originated in Norway. They probably originally migrated to Europe from central Asia. However, it doesn’t matter much today where they came from, seeing as how they pretty much live everywhere except the Arctic and the Antarctic – they live, more or less, where ever humans live, in populations essentially equaling that of their human cohabitants. New York City’s population of Norwegian rats, for example, has been estimated by some to be approaching 8 million.

Seeing as how the human population of Rat Island is zero, efforts will soon be made to restore the natural order of things (a rat for every person!). Alaska will be initiating “a multi-pronged attack” to drive rats from the state. Previous rat-eradication programs, like that carried out by Alberta, Canada, in the 1950s, have relied on shooting and poisoning rats, as well as bulldozing, burning, and blowing up rat-infested buildings. Alaska simply intends to cover Rat Island in an anticoagulant poison, which will cause the rodents to bleed to death. A little gruesome, I suppose, but Norwegian rats are clever little guys (some studies even suggest that they are capable of metacognition - thinking about thinking, pretty much), and will wait after eating just a small amount of something to see if it makes them sick. The anticoagulant takes a week or two before it kills rats, and so they generally won’t associate the poison with its effects.

Wildlife biologists expect that the return of the birds to the island, once its noble rats have disappeared, to be “dramatic,” with puffins, auklets, and storm petrels (among others) to appear in force by the next spring. So forget Florida, and go to Rat Island before it’s too late.

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Liza's picture
Liza says:

When I first glanced at this post's title, I thought it was about Rhode Island, not "Rat Island"...

posted on Mon, 12/03/2007 - 12:12pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

I like the thought of that picture being used to promote Rhode Island tourism.

Maybe they should consider it, what with Rat Island being so hot these days.

posted on Mon, 12/03/2007 - 12:16pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

This post also lets me plug one of my favorite non-fiction books:
Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants.

It's brilliant. Robert Sullivan wrote it, it's out in paperback, and someone you know needs this book as a holiday gift. (Heck, if you run out and get a copy now, and treat it nice, you can even read it on the sly before you give it away. Or you can be civilized and pick up a copy from the St. Paul Public Library...)

I was going to give you a little taste, but it's so awesome I can't choose which quotes to pull. Just go find a copy. You can thank me later.

posted on Mon, 12/03/2007 - 12:32pm

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