Watch out, Burmese pythons. A more disgusting invasive critter is looking to steal your thunder.
About 20 Gambian pouched rats have been trapped in the past year out on Grassy Key. Wildlife authorities say the huge rodents, which can weigh up to nine pounds, have been in the area since 1999. For a few years, it was thought the rats had been eradicated from the Keys, but recent sightings indicate that they've made an unfortunate return.
Become the rat king of water-cooler talk in your office by boning up on these five essential points about the repulsive creatures:
1. They Already Invaded New York:
Well, sort of. The two pictures below are purported to be of Gambian pouched rats that faced savage deaths in New York. According to Buzzfeed, the first is from a Foot Locker in the Bronx -- check out the referee shirt. The second -- the one of the giant rat impaled on a pitchfork -- is from Brooklyn's Marcy Houses and made all types of headlines last year.
2. They Can Sniff Out Landmines:
Mozambique suffered through a nearly two-decade civil war that ended in 1992. Among the most devastating legacies of the conflict are the thousands of minefields running across the southeastern African nation. To locate and remove still-active mines, researchers trained supersized Gambian rats to navigate the fields and sniff out explosive. When one finds a mine, it's rewarded with a banana. According to Time, the rats aren't as easily distracted as dogs, and they're far more efficient than metal detectors. Here's an Al Jazeera video showing how it's done:
3. They Live Way Longer Than Non-Giant Rats:
A typical domesticated rat lives two to three years. The Gambian breed, according to Rat & Mouse Gazette (best publication name ever), can live past seven years. The article goes on to note that they produce "strong smelling urine," and it suggests that the "best time to cuddle one of these giants is immediately after awakening them."
Rat & Mouse Gazette
4. They Eat Babies:
Toddler flesh is by no means the primary source of protein for these beasts, but news broke in 2011 that rats killed two infants in South Africa. One of the mothers said her daughter was "eaten from her eyebrows to her cheeks; her other eye was hanging by a piece of flesh."
5. People Keep Them as Pets:
Rumor has it that the rats showing up in Grassy Key can likely be traced to a breeder who let them lose. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. But owning a giant invasive African rat implies certain things, like that you run in a weird social circle bent on creeping out the general public and that you're OK with "strong smelling" rodent urine.