Monday, November 17, 2008

The Real Rat King

This is from a friend's animation blog, so I can't claim creativity here. With Christmas fast approaching many of us will likely be watching the Nutcracker in some form or at least listening to the music. As you are watching your ballet, cartoon, or child's dance production look at the antagonist. Do you really know what a rat king is? I find this grossly fascinating. Please excuse me because I have strange interest in dead things and weird natural phenomena in the animal world that developed at a young age, hence my biology degree. Read on if you dare:

"Rat kings are phenomena said to arise when a number of rats become intertwined at their tails, which become stuck together with blood, dirt, and excrement. The animals reputedly grow together while joined at the tails. The numbers of rats that are joined together can vary, but naturally rat kings formed from a larger number of rats are rarer. The phenomenon is particularly associated with Germany, where the majority of instances have been reported.

Specimens of purported rat kings are kept in some museums. The museum Mauritianum in Altenburg (Thuringia) shows the largest well-known mummified "rat king", which was found in 1828 in a miller's fireplace at Buchheim. It consists of 32 rats. Alcohol-preserved rat kings are shown in museums in Hamburg, Hamelin, Göttingen, and Stuttgart. A rat king found in 1930 in New Zealand, displayed in the Otago Museum in Dunedin, was composed of immature Rattus rattus whose tails were entangled by horse hair.[1] Relatively few rat kings have been discovered; depending on the source, the number of reported instances varies between 35 and 50 finds

. . . The term rat king has often led to the misconception of a king of rats. This idea has been particularly appealing to the literary and artistic mindset: The Nutcracker, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, adapts a tale by E. T. A. Hoffmann that features a seven-headed Mouse King as the villain."


P.S. Wonderful educational discussion topic at Christmas dinner don't you think? hehe!


Branden said...

Melinda, I hope that you bring this (or something equally disgusting) up at Christmas dinner next year. Preferably after the meal and before the dessert. My only question is, why do additional rats continue to get stuck after the initial few are tangled? Do they live in such close quarters that this is possible?

Kerstin said...

That is very interesting. People have probably thought I am equally weird due to my odd interest in ears. :)

Wiwi Kalawi said...

I think you would like the book called "The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents" by Terry Pratchett. This is one of my favorite authors, and it has a rat king in it.