Saturday 15 June
Black rat (Rattus rattus)
Black rat fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Black rat description
Also known as the ship rat (2), the black rat (Rattus rattus) was introduced to Britain with the Romans (4). Generally smaller than the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), the black rat is typically a uniform black to tawny brown colour, with lighter underparts (1). The tail, which is longer than the head and body, is hairless, and is used for balance (2).
- Rat Noir.
- Rata Negra.
Black rat biology
The black rat is nocturnal, although it may become more active in the day in undisturbed areas (4). It is an omnivore, but tends to prefer plant matter (4) such as fruits and seeds, although it will also feed on insects, carrion, refuse and faeces (2). On Lundy Island these rats feed on crabs along the shore (4). This rat lives in groups called 'packs', consisting of several males and two or more dominant females (4). They are skilled climbers and can also swim well (2). Nests are constructed from grass and twigs, often in roof spaces, a habit which earned the species the further common name of 'roof rat' (2).
Breeding takes place between March and November; three to five litters can be produced in a year, each litter containing 1 to 16 young (although the average is seven). A single female can therefore produce a huge number of offspring; 56 young were recorded on a London ship for a single female (4). At 12 to 16 weeks of age, females are capable of breeding; they are also able to conceive whilst still suckling the previous litter, which further maximises their reproductive capability (1). Maximum lifespan in the wild is less than 18 months; populations have very high mortality rates, mainly as a result of widespread pest control measures (4). The black rat is a notorious pest, and was the host of the fleas that carried bubonic plague (2). It also carries a host of other diseases and is damaging to property and food stores (1).Top
Black rat range
This species was once widespread throughout Britain until the brown rat was introduced (4). The black rat originates from Asia, and today is widely distributed around the globe (4). It has been restricted to largely transient populations in Southwark, London and Avonmouth since 1884, and has undergone a drastic decline in range since the 1950s (4). It also persists on Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel and the Shaint Islands in the Outer Hebrides (4).Top
Black rat habitat
The black rat is closely associated with buildings around the world, although in Britain it tends to inhabit rocky shores and cliffs. On the islands it occasionally occurs on rubbish dumps and around buildings (4).Top
Black rat status
The black rat is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (). It is not legally protected in the UK. No conservation designations (3).Top
Black rat threats
The future of this once devastating pest in Britain is now uncertain. Improved hygiene and control measures on ships makes further introductions highly unlikely, and control measures such as poisoning with rodenticides are ever-prevalent, particularly close to human habitation, where the black rat occurs (4).Top
Black rat conservation
The question as to whether the black rat should now receive a level of protection due to its poor status is a highly contentious issue (4).Top
Find out more
For more on the black rat:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
- The flesh of a dead animal.
- Active at night.
- An organism that feeds on both plants and animals.
IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
- Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
- The Environment Agency (1998) Species and Habitats Handbook. The Environment Agency, Bristol.
Macdonnald, D. W. & Tattersall, F. T. (2001) Britain's mammals- the challenge for conservation. The Wildlife Conservation research Unit, Oxford University.
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.