Posted tagged ‘rats’

The Hills Are Alive … with Rats (Video)

October 18, 2011

On Sunday, I returned in daylight to the twin peaks of Rat Palace with dog and camera.  Since the fast-moving inhabitants have eluded my primitive skills as a photographer, I decided to try video instead, and … voila: Rattus norvegicus, one of New York City’s most common wildlife species, going about its business under the noses of mostly oblivious New Yorkers, their dogs and children.

The squeaking sound is the swing set in the playground behind me, not giant rats, and the whining sound in both videos is the poor dog, longing for a little rat-catching action.

There was far more rat activity on the mounds than I was able to catch on the video below, but I think you’ll get the idea.

While rats and humans cavort, the sun goes down over Riverside Park.

Goodnight, sun. Goodnight, park. Goodnight, rats.

If You Build It, Rats Will Come

October 16, 2011

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My Name is Esau and I’m a Thigmophiliac

July 20, 2010

Thigmophilic: used by biologists to describe animals that love to touch things, or be touched

My name is Esau and I'm a thigmophiliac

“Hello. My name is Esau, and I’m a thigmophiliac. Or thigmophile. Whatever.”

Well, hey, you may say, I like to be touched, too. Who doesn’t?  But when scientists call a species “thigmophilic,” or touch-loving, they’re not talking about back rubs, caresses or a scratch behind the ears.  They’re talking about animals that, as Robert Sullivan says in his fascinating, information-packed book, Rats, “prefer to touch things as they travel” or otherwise go about their essential business.  Often, they’re talking about rats.

Rats, specifically Rattus norvegicus, the familiar – some might say, too familiar – city rat, like to keep their bodies in contact with walls as they scurry along on their rodentine missions. Wall-hugging, which protects them from attack on one side, appears to create a kind of kinetic map: it helps the rats learn favorite routes.

Wall hugger

Hedge hugger

Until I read Sullivan’s book, I had no idea a word existed to describe my dog Esau’s love affair with walls.

Most of the time, I don’t let him hug his beloved walls, because, well, NYC walls are filthy, particularly down at Esau’s level. I don’t even want to think too much about what’s on those walls.  But on a recent trip to Morningside Park, I conducted a not very scientific experiment: I let Esau walk where he wanted.

Rail hugger

Retaining wall hugger

The results? No surprise: He hugged the walls.

He hugged buildings, railings and hedges.

Cathedral hugger

Stairwell hugger

He hugged the side of Saint John the Divine, and the stone steps that lead into the park.

If an object could, by any stretch of the definition, be considered a wall, Esau hugged it.

Back inside, he hustled along the interior wall.

Hustling wall hugger

Is this a case of the hunter coming to resemble the hunted? How peculiar that Esau, the mighty rat hunter who snatches street rats from beneath piles of trash, should share with his prey the unusual trait of thigmophilia.

“So I’m a thigmophiliac. What’s it take to get a drink of water around here?”

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