Thinking about getting rats as pets but wondering if they’re as interesting as other animals? Well, we’ve got some really good news for you. Rats can be really intelligent and we’ve got the evidence to prove it.
In rats are smart! 14 videos of pet rats showing off their IQ, we’ll introduce you to rats that solve mazes, learn tricks, do puzzles and other even smarter rats that avoid traps, help detect tuberculous and help with mine sweeping efforts.
Of course, not all these rats are “pets” in the traditional sense but all of them have an established relationship with human beings and have learned to live in harmony with us. Check it out:
Are Rats Smart?
For almost all of history, until the 20th Century (or thereabouts) humans and rats have not lived in harmony. In fact, human beings have spent a lot of effort on eradicating the humble rat from the face of the planet.
After all, rats have been blamed for nearly every outbreak of plague including the Black Death which wiped out much of Europe in the 16th Century. However, the rats are definitely smarter than they look because rats have managed to survive and thrive even with the planet’s dominant species (that would be us) as their mortal enemies.
The study of rat’s intelligence, however, didn’t begin until around about World War 2. Why? Because Allied Forces were worried that the Nazis might be able to train rats to spread disease and destroy food stores as part of their war efforts.
Now, unfortunately rats aren’t people and they can’t fill in a nice IQ test for us to measure their exact intelligence. In the general order of things, rats are considered to be smarter than mice and pigeons but not as bright as say a cat or a dog.
However, this is probably not the whole story.
If you’d like to see a very smart rat then this performance from America’s Got Talent should convince you that rats can be very smart, indeed.
Melissa Arleth, as featured in this video, maintains that rats can be taught nearly anything if you have the patience to train them.
Are Rats Smarter Than Dogs?
The Harvard Business Review came to a stunning conclusion – in some instances, rats aren’t just a bit smarter than dogs – they can be smarter than we are too.
They showed that when given patterns to learn, human beings and rats did as well as each other when it came to a shift in either orientation or spacing. However, when the patterns were varied in both orientation and spacing – rats did way better than the people did.
This is a factor of the fact that a rat’s brain is simpler than a human one and while simple isn’t always your best option, when it comes to handling patterns – it is.
Rats don’t try and find complex reasons to justify the way that the pattern moves, because they just don’t much care. Human beings, on the other hand, overthink it and end up with the wrong result because they’re trying to find more meaning than is present.
Our tendency to want to apply rules to situations makes us dumber than rats when it comes to identifying objects that move in both orientation and spacing. So, are rats smarter than dogs if they’re smarter than people?
Well, at some things, probably, yes. At others? Definitely not. A dog is capable of more overall learning than a rat but just like us, dogs can be outsmarted by rats too.
For example, this dog grew up with rats and because he was a puppy when he learned to hang around with them – he now lets the rat beat him at wrestling.
The Practical Power Of Clever Rats – The Ability To Detect Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious disease. If you live in the Western world, you may be convinced that TB has gone away never to reappear because there’s been a vaccine available since about 1921, but sadly, this is not the case.
There are many regions of the world where the vaccine is either unaffordable or worse, impractical to give to people.
3,000 People Die Every Day From TB
In fact, the problem is so severe that TB remains one of the 10 leading causes of death, globally, and more than 3,000 people a day die of TB. If you live in India, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa, Nigeria, etc. then the risks of dying from TB is very real.
The most severe cases are in children and without an accurate diagnostic test – it is hard to work out which children are infected before they start to show some of the most serious symptoms of disease.
The Power Of A Story
One thing that TB researchers learned of was that anecdotally, a lot of people claim that folks with TB don’t smell right. That they have a specific odor which healthy people don’t have.
This is why a researcher in Tanzania hit on the idea of training rats to sniff out victims and, in particular, the children who are infected with TB so that they can be treated early in the progression of the disease before any serious damage to their lungs and bodies ahs taken place.
The nice thing about rats is that they are very affordable and there’s no need for a country to invest in expensive equipment to train rats either.
African Rats Are Clever Rats
So, the researchers went out to find the African Giant-Pouched Rat (a species known in Latin as Cricetomys ansorgei) and to see if it could be enlisted to help fight TB.
They took sputum samples from nearly 1,000 children that had been screened for TB. The standard testing showed 34 children had the disease. The rats said, “yeah, but no” and found an additional 57 children were infected.
These infections were confirmed with follow up testing. That is the rats were nearly 3 times more accurate in finding the TB cases than the standard testing was!
These incredibly clever rodents are saving lives and that’s a wonderful thing!
Check out the work done by clever rats on tuberculosis in this video:
The Practical Power Of Clever Rats (Part 2) – Finding Landmines Where No-one Dares To Tread
Landmines are among the nastiest weapons of war. They’re laid during times of hostility to prevent troop incursions into territory but once they’re down, they stay down. Even when peace returns, the territory that landmines cover remains uninhabitable.
Sadly, for many of the world’s poorest people, they have no choice but to live in areas full of landmines and thousands of people each year are killed and maimed by these weapons. In countries like Cambodia, it is rare to find a village without at least one person who has lost a leg to mines.
People and Dogs Are Not Great For Finding Mines
Digging up landmines is hazardous work. If you are to tackle the project by hand, then you send someone out with a metal detector. They have to stop at every ping and the dangers are so huge that they often get killed in the course of their work.
There are dogs trained to track down landmines but there are problems with using dogs – they’re expensive and transporting them across borders can be a real issue. Quarantine procedures aren’t normally waved for mine-sniffing dogs.
Rats Have A Weight Advantage
Rats, on the other hand, make near perfect minesweepers. That’s because they’re incredibly light and thus aren’t going to set off any mines that they stand on (if they did, then a less humane way of searching for mines would simply to chase rats over a minefield – you wouldn’t need them to sniff mines out at all).
A charity in Africa, APOPO, has managed to teach rats to sniff out mines and they can search 200 sqm of land 20 minutes. That’s the same amount of land that would take a human being over 4 days to search!
More than 13,000 mines have been removed from the ground in Angola, Cambodia, Mozambique and Tanzania thanks to the efforts of these rats.
The Training Process Takes A Lot of Time
The training process isn’t exactly simple, mind you. The rats must be raised by people. They are trained to respond to click commands because they cannot process spoken commands.
Then they need to be taught how to effectively search in a grid-pattern in any given area.
In the field, they then mark each spot that smells of explosives and then humans follow along and check the area, if they find a mine – it’s removed and detonated.
Unbelievably, it takes 9 months to train up these rats. So, it’s a good job that they live longer than the common pet rat and can manage about 8 years of life expectancy!
Check out these amazingly clever rats saving lives at the video below:
The Rat And Your Toilet
One thing you may not believe until you come face-to-face with one, is how easy it is for a rat to enter your home through your toilet.
They quickly learn that the best treats are hidden in human homes and they are used to moving through narrow pipes when foraging.
Now, we’ve never heard of a rat emerging from a toilet when someone is using the toilet but it’s a very common entry way for a smart rat to take advantage of.
You see the U bend in your toilet, which is essential to stop your toilet from clogging up, is a rodent’s best friend. They can swim up the drainpipe (and rats are excellent swimmers) and then take a breather in the U bend which has a nice pocket of air in it before swimming the rest of the way.
Once a rat is familiar with this entry route into your room, it’s very difficult to dissuade them from using it, sadly. So, you need to make certain that you keep any foodstuffs, etc. firmly locked away out of rodent reach – that way they won’t be tempted to come back again if they do pay your home a nocturnal visit down the toilet.
If you’d like to see how rats can manage to get into your home via the toilet this is how:
Rats and Mazes
Rats have been made to work in experimental mazes throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. That’s because they’re very good at solving mazes and because you can work backwards through the rat’s solution to learn more about the way almost all creatures (including people) learn.
Why do rats have such an affinity for solving mazes when compared to other creatures? Well, because rats are foraging animals which go out searching for food in the dark. It turns out that they learn to remember where they’ve been and seek out new pathways naturally. They’re almost born to be maze solvers.
What can we learn from rats in mazes?
Well, if you take just the classic maze – that is one with vertical walls, a transparent ceiling (so that we can observe the rat as it tackles the challenge) with a start point and an end point with some sort of food reward on it (the food is designed to get the rat to return to the same spot as quickly as possible).
You can then measure how long it takes them to do it once, whether they get faster over time (they do) and then work out how fast rats learn by plotting this change in time and you can see how quickly they eliminate any errors.
This challenge looks a lot easier to us than it is to the rat because we’re looking down and can see the whole maze, but the rat is in the maze and can only see the corridors in front of them and the walls. It’s a lot trickier to solve a maze like that.
Here’s Rafiki’s 3 rats solving a maze that they designed, and you’re be quite impressed how quickly they come to grips with things:
If you’d like to see something even more advanced – here’s Nicky the rat trapped in a maze with her sister Wicky coming to her rescue. This is really quite amazing as Wicky quickly tackles a very complicated problem that you might not believe a rat could come to grips with at all:
Rats As Problem Solvers
If you still have any doubts that rats are smart creatures, then you might want to watch them in action as free form problem solvers. In many ways, these rats are capable of even more than their maze solving brethren and it’s really cool to see what they can do.
Example 1: The Rat In The Yard
This rat is awesome. He handles an entire obstacle course in order to grab some food that his happy owner has hidden for him.
Example 2: The Rat And The Baseball
One of the big challenges of being a rat is you don’t have paws that can pull a baseball out of a glass to get to the tasty treats laying beneath. So what do you do? Well Erin Toth’s rat Boo had no problem figuring this one out.
Example 3: Roof Rats Rescue Their Babies
This is an interesting experiment with wild roof rats where a rat mom had to work out how to get to her babies which were hidden from her. See how she did:
Other Rats Doing Clever Things
And to finish up with, we have some videos that don’t fall in any neat category of rats doing clever things:
Five Talented Rats
This is part of a series on a group of clicker trained rats – it’s quite amazing what they can learn:
Clever Rats And Funny Things
If you want to see how entertaining smart rats can be, you don’t want to miss this:
The Wild Rat’s Trap Avoidance Skills
If you ever wondered why rats aren’t always caught in traps, this rat can show you:
The Bird Feeder Challenge
Hungry but the humans leave food for birds but not rats? No problem. Here’s how to get the bird food, instead.
So, there you have it, Rats Are Smart! 14 Videos Of Pet Rats Showing Off Their IQ prove it too. Rats not only figure out puzzles and solve mazes, but they can also be trained to do some incredible things and the best and brightest help protect people against landmines and tuberculosis!