Rats Exonerated! Gerbils Actually Caused The Black Death

Fanghawk

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Rats Exonerated! Gerbils Actually Caused The Black Death

New climate data suggests rats probably didn't transmit the Black Death and murder millions - but gerbils are the perfect candidates.

<a href=http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/135212-Rats-Regret-Their-Bad-Decisions-Researchers-Find>Rats have a pretty bad rap among rodents, and it's largely thanks to the Black Death. Believed to have been carried by rats and transferred to humans by fleas, the Black Death killed up to 200 million Europeans, forever giving them a reputation as filthy disease carriers. Now a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has put forward the theory that gerbils - not rats - were responsible for the countless deaths that drastically changed the populations of Europe.

Follow me on this journey: The Black Death originated in Asia, reaching Europe in 1347 and killing millions across several epidemics. Scientists generally believed that rats were the responsible carriers - but new <a href=http://www.escapistmagazine.com/tag/view/climate%20change?os=climate+change>climate research suggests the conditions weren't ideal for large rat reservoirs. "For this, you would need warm summers, with not too much precipitation. Dry but not too dry," Professor Nils Christian Stenseth from the University of Olso explained. "And we have looked at the broad spectrum of climatic indices, and there is no relationship between the appearance of plague and the weather."

Professor Stenseth and his team made this conclusion by comparing European tree ring records with rings from 7711 historical plague outbreaks. The results prompted Stenseth to consider another option - that a wet spring followed by a dry summer caused gerbil and flea populations to increase in Asia before moving to Europe.

"Such conditions are good for gerbils. It means a high gerbil population across huge areas and that is good for the plague," he continued. "To me this was rather surprising ... Suddenly we could sort out a problem. Why did we have these waves of plagues in Europe? We originally thought it was due to rats and climatic changes in Europe, but now we know it goes back to Central Asia."

Of course, that doesn't mean rats can't carry diseases - just that they may not be responsible for one of the worst outbreaks in history. And yet gerbils are considered perfectly normal pets while rats - which tend to be <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat>quite friendly and intelligent when domesticated - horrify people on sight.

Although I suppose gerbils being <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerbil#mediaviewer/File:Gerbil.JPG>pretty freaking adorable certainly helped that view.

Source: <a href=http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/02/20/1412887112>PNAS, via <a href=http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31588671>BBC

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Guffe

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The rat in the picture looks exactly like my pet rat I had about 8 years ago :D
Good memories...

On Topic:
Doesn't really matter, does it?
It's so rooted into poeple that rats were the carriers, that even if this was true, people wouldn't really care and still blame the rats :(
 

snekadid

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It's always the cute ones. Everyone gets so upset over killings seals and swans because they're cute/pretty, but they are massive assholes who harass and attack for pretty much no reason. Then there's the Dolphins and the rape....
 

Weresquirrel

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I work in a pet store, and I'm always singing praises for rats as a great pet, but you know what the most common complaint I hear about rats is?

The tail. It reminds some people of snakes.

Seriously, that's the reason I hear most for why people don't like rats and would sooner get a grumpy ill-tempered git like a hamster than a loveable friendly buddy like a rat.
 

Davroth

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Apr 27, 2011
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Whaaaa? Rats make adorable pets when cared for properly. And they are so smart for rodents! People be crazy.
 

Dimitriov

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May 24, 2010
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So gerbils spread the black plague? Even though there weren't any living in Europe at the time? Really? This just sounds stupid.

Human populations in Europe had plenty of rats. What evidence is there that there were ANY gerbils? Gerbils are not endemic to Europe.
 

Karadalis

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Because gerbils are known to seek out the surroundings of human dwellings... yeah.. not buying the blame shifting from rats to gerbils.

Gerbils werent even around in europe at that time of history, they only reached europe in the early 1900s when they where brought in for studying and breeding purposes, and as allways escaped captivity.

While they might have been the original carrier of the plague they sure as hell werent the ones spreading it around in europe. There where no gerbils in germany, france and britain... but there sure as hell where masses upon masses of rats in the cities and villages.

What this study seems to completly ignore is that rats arent really influenced by the weather aslong as they have warm human settlements to stay in.

Human settlements give them everything they need, warmth, safety and tons of food. Thats why rats are so succesfull as a species and can be found in large quantities.

Also im pretty sure ships that where under quarantine because a breakout of the plague where not infested by gerbils either. Never heard the term "shipgerbils" but "shiprats" is a pretty common term.

Oh and rats do indeed make great pets... but so do catsnakes
 

Hoplon

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Still don't get this article (seen it a lot around the web) the fleas where the problem, not which sodding rodent carried them
 

SupahEwok

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Actually, one of the best theories I've heard for the plague coming to Europe is that Mongols besieged a city on the Black Sea by launching plague-ridden livestock over the walls. After a couple of weeks, ships leave in mass panic, sail to Italy... and like others said upthread, never heard of gerbils living on ships...
 

CrimsonBlack

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AFAIK, having read the paper, it's about the reintroduction at intervals of the plague bacterium into the rat population via trade routes, and precipitated by climate changes in Asia.

There needs to be a differentiation of reservoir and carrier. Zoonotic reservoirs are all around us, such as cattle and sheep. The reservoirs (apparently gerbils) caused an introduction into the rat population via fleas of the plague bacteria. It doesn't mean that rats can't be a carrier of the plague, the paper simply casts doubts on whether they are the genuine reservoir of it. Personally I think I need a bit more evidence than tree rings that animals other than rats caused the plague.
 

GodzillaGuy92

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Texture replacement for the Plague rats from Dishonored that turns them into gerbils. Get on it, modders.
 

Zeraki

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So I guess they have to change that one line in Batman Begins to "we filled trade ships with plague gerbils" now. Just the idea of Liam Neeson saying "plague gerbils" makes me giggle incessantly and I don't know why.
 

P-89 Scorpion

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Weresquirrel said:
I work in a pet store, and I'm always singing praises for rats as a great pet, but you know what the most common complaint I hear about rats is?

The tail. It reminds some people of snakes.

Seriously, that's the reason I hear most for why people don't like rats and would sooner get a grumpy ill-tempered git like a hamster than a loveable friendly buddy like a rat.

As someone who had both as a kid they are both friendly animals as long as you get them when they are young and handle them daily rather than leave them in a cage for weeks at a time so they don't get used to being handled and so react aggressive to being touched.
 

dalek sec

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Jul 20, 2008
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Don't believe him! It's a filthy lie created by the Skaven! D:

OT: Huh, didn't think there were any gerbils in Europe at the time..

Tank207 said:
So I guess they have to change that one line in Batman Begins to "we filled trade ships with plague gerbils" now. Just the idea of Liam Neeson saying "plague gerbils" makes me giggle incessantly and I don't know why.
Thank you for bringing that awesome mental image to mind, that made my night. :D
 

Lono Shrugged

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Headline suggests this is a proven fact. It is in fact a theory being put forward for review.

Come on people!! If we are going to science, lets science properly.
 

Abomination

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Hoplon said:
Still don't get this article (seen it a lot around the web) the fleas where the problem, not which sodding rodent carried them
Exactly.

It's also obsolete information, I mean, we wouldn't deal with another plague like this by killing all the gerbils but with vaccines and treatment.

I think it's more important to observe how TRADE caused this - rats/gerbils weren't piloting those ships.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PLBmUVYYeg

Crash Course yourself! It's a great series.

Watch.

Watch now.
 

Rozalia1

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What does it matter even if Gerbil was originally going to be given the Black Death gimmick? Rat ran with it and is a legend in the business. Rat is an inspiration to vanilla midgets everywhere in that no matter how small or bland you are you can still main event shows across Europe.
 

Strazdas

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Weresquirrel said:
I work in a pet store, and I'm always singing praises for rats as a great pet, but you know what the most common complaint I hear about rats is?

The tail. It reminds some people of snakes.

Seriously, that's the reason I hear most for why people don't like rats and would sooner get a grumpy ill-tempered git like a hamster than a loveable friendly buddy like a rat.
solution: hamsters.

Its a rat minus the tail as far as average consumer is concerned. and hamsters are great pets. though some of them are ill tempered.
 

PunkRex

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Hate to break it to you but How 2 informed me of this almost two decades ago.

Also, rats are adorable.