Friday, March 18, 2011

A comparison between wild and fancy rats

He's a beautiful boy, isn't he?
Found him as a two week old pup one Saturday night, just near my rats' cage.
His coat was silkier compared to his mates' coarse fur.


Wild rat, black rat, sewer rat, fancy rat… people often think that they are all different species. But in fact they are all the same. The ‘black rat’ that people pertain to is often a black colored pet rat, or a wild rat scavenging through garbage – which is really a brown rat. The true ‘black rat’ is Rattus rattus (popularly known as ‘ship rat’). It has a smaller build compared to the brown rat, has a longer tail in proportion to its body, and prefers wet places, more agile and better climbers. 

They all belong to the family of brown rats (Rattus norvegicus). The brown rat is rumored to have originated from Northern China and Mongolia. They thrive wherever humans thrive – in this case, they are found in abundance throughout the world (except Antarctica). They are omnivores, but their diet mostly consists of cereals and grains (carbohydrate-based).

Five wild rats were caught as of this time of writing, in an attempt to breed agoutis. But none have been successful so far. See photos below.

Caught this handsome adult male on March 10, 2011.
Unfortunately, it died on Sunday the 13th.


There are some behavioral differences between wild rats and pet rats. Wild rats are inclined to be solitary, while pet rats are docile and cherish attention from humans and fellow rats alike. Wild rats can become docile when reared as a pup, and yet may still be behaviorally different from the pet rats.

Wild rats are said to have an average lifespan of less than one year due to its exposure to harsh elements. Pet rats have the advantage of living longer, from two to four years on average, due to the care that they receive from their human guardians. Pet rats however, are almost always born with the dreaded Mycoplasma pulmonis.

The one on the left is Rattus Moki, a wild rat, rescued from two weeks old.
On the right is Rattus Choki, a black berkshire.


In the 18th and 19th centuries, brown rats were thrown into pits for the now outlawed game of rat-baiting. Oddities were spotted occasionally and were sold as pets or bred. It is from this point that they have departed from the roots of their wild counterparts and into the path of pet cuteness overload.

Jimmy Shaw and Jack Black pioneered the pet rat fancy. It was Miss Mary Douglas who ignited interest in rats as a formal fancy in 1901. But her death in 1921 meant that the rat fancy died out and remained dormant until public interest was reawakened in 1976 by the National Fancy Rat Society (UK).

Pet rats come in a variety of colors and markings, which are governed by standards (varies according to region) by different fancy associations. Wild rats are agouti colored. According to scientific literature, there is a link between coat color and temperament. For example, the agouti coloring of a rat is what determines its wildness; on the other hand, the hooded gene is what makes a rat docile and have a better temperament.



Fancy rats make great pets. They are very clean, and are not really carriers of diseases people associate them with. They live longer than their wild cousins due to the care and pampering that they receive. Above all, they are intelligent and humorous creatures if you know them really well.

Pet rats have come a long way of domestication from their wild counterparts. According to a friend of mine, agouti is the mother of all fancy rat colors, and that it would be POSSIBLE to cause mutations from that color. But the question is: “How long does it take, how many generations of breeding, before we achieve mutation from the agouti?

Bibliography Rat coat biology: The links between coat color and temperament. Retrieved March 14, 2011 from Wild Norway rat behavior. Retrieved March 14, 2011 from
Wikipedia. The black rat. Retrieved March 14, 2011 from
Wikipedia. The brown rat. Retrieved March 14, 2011 from
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