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Rat, common name for any large member of a family of rodents, with dull-colored, coarse fur; long tails; large ears; and a pointed snout. Rats have extremely powerful teeth, with which they often gnaw through wooden planks to get at stores of food, and they have even been known to bite holes in lead pipes. They are usually nocturnal and live in human habitations, in forests, in deserts, and on seagoing ships. They are extremely prolific, breeding 1 to 13 times a year and producing 1 to 22 young in a litter. Most species of rats are herbivorous, but some are omnivorous.

Species: Two species of rats are found almost throughout the world. The brown rat, which is also known as the Norway rat, house rat, gray rat, barn rat, and wharf rat, is the larger of the two. It attains a length of about 18 to 26 cm (about 7 to 10 in), not including the tail, which is about 15 to 22 cm (about 6 to 9 in) long. It is grayish-brown above and sooty white below. This common species does much damage to foodstuffs in storehouses, carries fleas that transmit such diseases as plague and typhus fever, and attacks domestic animals, poultry, and occasionally humans. The brown rat was carried on ships from Europe to the United States late in the 18th century, and it has gradually displaced the black rat, a smaller, less aggressive species introduced into North America in about the 16th century. The black rat, which is almost completely black in color, is now prevalent in tropical, and subtropical America and in the southern United States. The black rat produces 1 to 11 young in a litter. Like the brown rat, the black rat spreads disease and destroys property. Albino strains of both the black and brown rat are bred for use in biological study; these white rats have been extensively used for nutritional studies and in many other areas of scientific research.

Control: Rats are controlled by the use of traps or poison. Most rat poisons are dangerous, however, and should be used only under professional supervision.
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