Many people have a very real fear of rats. Whether you’ve ever seen one in person or not, you’re probably grossed out by the idea of a hairy little monster running around and nibbling on everything that you hold precious. But what if we told you that right now there’s a mass of rats tied together by their tails crawling underground and looking for anything they can use to survive? That’s right, we’re talking about rat kings.
Maybe you’ve hit up the rat king Wikipedia, but what can you really learn there? We’re here to answer your most pertinent rat king questions, like "Where do rat kings live?" And are there rat kings in New York? Answers: Under your bathroom, and yes yes yes. Keep reading to learn everything there is to know about rat kings, from where the concept originated to where the next rat king is probably going to rear its many heads.
So what are rat kings, other than a nightmarish abomination created to haunt your dreams? A rat king occurs when you have a mass of rodents whose tails become stuck together either by a strong adhesive or by becoming so knotted that the animals can’t escape. Once the rats are knotted together they begin to try to furiously escape and a rat king is born.
Have you ever seen a rat king? If so how did you handle it? Did you run away in terror, or are you now the proud owner of an embalmed rat king sculpture? Tell us about it in the comments.
One of the common misconceptions about rat kings is that they're actually made up of conjoined twins. This idea probably comes from the folkloric concept that rat kings share a hive mind, but as Boing Boing points out, rat kings only grow together after birth, not before. Although it's not out of the question for people from the Middle Ages to believe that rats formed together in the womb and hatched into surprise nightmares. That certainly adds to the spooky concept, but it's, unfortunately, another myth that falls apart the moment logic is applied.
One researcher in Estonia decided to get down to the nitty-gritty and see why all of these rats were sticking together, and it turns out that a bunch of things need to happen in order for there be a true rat king. The researcher believes that the rats have to be huddled together in the cold, on sandy ground, and blood, mud or a different sticky substance needs to be involved for the rats to actually form a king. Whatever the bonding agent was, it would have to act quickly as rats aren't known for sitting in one place for very long. As much sense as this paper makes, it's still a scenario that only survives under the "best" circumstances.
This is bad news on par with there not being a real Santa Claus, but it might not be possible for rats to get their tails tangled up into a bunch of knots because their tails are actually filled with bones, or as one Redditor succinctly states, "[they're not] spaghetti noodles." Well said, sir. Even if their tails are somewhat prehensile, thus negating the possibility of tails being woven together like that mass of old phone chargers in your closet, we've learned that they can get stuck together by naturally occurring adhesives like pine sap or blood.
That we know of. According to a Yahoo! News post, the last recorded sighting of a rat king was in the Võrumaa region of Estonia in 2005. Given that rat kings originated in Eastern Europe, it's not a huge surprise that another one would be found in the region, but it does give pause to those of us who worry about a second coming of the bubonic plague. And if you're worried that rat kings are only popping up in places that you've never heard of, cheer up, there might be piles of rats running around underneath your city right now!