Black Rat – Rattus rattus


The black rat, also known as the ship rat, has a notorious history. It is originally from India, arriving here with the Romans 2,000 years ago in ships and crates of cargo. Fleas on black rats brought the plague to Europe in the Middle Ages, when they came with the last Crusaders returning from the Holy Land in 1348. The Black Death killed three million people in England – over half the population at that time.

Black rats live in packs of 20 – 60 and eat mainly plant matter such as seeds and fruits. They are primarily nocturnal and very agile, climbing ropes and brickwork and gnawing their way into wooden buildings. They are also very good swimmers. Black Rats are now scarce in Britain, confined mainly to ports or coastal towns where they forage in disused buildings and warehouses.

Origin: Introduced.

Size: Slimmer than the brown rat. Body length: 12 – 14 cm; the tail is longer than the body at 14 – 26 cm.

Description: Slightly built with a long pointed face and large, almost hairless ears. The coat colour ranges from grey-brown to dark black. Feet are whitish or pink.

Habitat: Largely confined to main ports and coastal towns, where they forage inside warehouses and disused buildings, making it easy to control their numbers. Also found in grassy fields. On islands (Shiant and Channel Islands) they occupy rocks and cliffs.

Young: They breed between April – November. Females produce up to five litters of five to eight pups. The young are sexually mature at five weeks.

Nest: Built above ground, in cavity walls, in between rafters or even in hollow trees.

Diet: Mainly vegetarian; seeds, fruit and grain. Food is not stored but taken to a safe place to be consumed.

Population: Estimated to be 1,300.