21 Gross But Fascinating Facts About Rat Kings

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. 

  • The Largest Rat King On Record Is 32 Rats Total
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    The Largest Rat King On Record Is 32 Rats Total

    It's safe to assume that rat kings are incredibly gross to look at, and the largest rat king on display doesn't let viewers down. It's displayed in the Mauritianum Museum in Altenburg, Germany and it has 32 individual rats stuck together. There's obviously a lot of debate as to whether this rat king is real. And even if it was tied together post-mortem, it's still a monument to man's ability to not get super grossed out by touching a pile of dead rats. So next time you're in Germany, don't forget to go look at a nasty pile of rats!

  • The Name Comes From A Myth
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Name Comes From A Myth

    The very idea of the Rat King (or King Rat) comes from the myth that out of all the rats in a pile of rats, there's one wise rat who sits on the rest of the rats and rides on top like some kind of rodent Rick Ross. Nothing sounds more mythological than a rat that rides other rats, but it's also kind of silly. It's surprising that 16th-century villagers didn't laugh whoever came up with the idea out of Europe. 

  • The Idea Of Rat Kings Originated In Eastern Europe
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Idea Of Rat Kings Originated In Eastern Europe

    Even though rat kings are well-tread territory for most of the Western world, the idea of the rat king got its start in Eastern Europe, most likely in Germany. At the time, the country was overrun with vermin and the plague was in full effect, and with roving gangs of rats crawling through the countryside, a few of them were bound to get tied up together. Rat kings could probably only happen in Eastern Europe because it's the only part of the country that could support rodents. Once you move even further to the east it gets really cold, thus destroying the possibility of large swarms of rats taking over towns willy-nilly. 

  • There Might Be A Lot Of Rat Kings

    The guys over at Lazer Horse bring up an interesting point when saying that "rat king sightings are rare, but they’re perhaps not such a rare occurrence. After all, the rat kings humans get to see are the chance sightings when they are only partially buried." Meaning that most rat kings likely occur deep underground where we're not likely to find them. That means that right now, there could be thousands of rat kings below your city and you don't even know it.

  • Rat Kings Aren't Conjoined Twins

    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. 

  • A Rat King In Estonia Was Caused By Frozen Sand

    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.