Rats are scavengers and opportunistic feeders, so they will eat just about anything they can find out in the wild. Just like humans, rats are omnivores, so they will eat both plants and animals.
A rat’s diet will depend on the resources that are available in their specific habitat. For example, a rat in the forest will eat mostly fruits, nuts, and fungi. Meanwhile, a rat in farms or rice fields will be eating a lot of seeds, grains, and vegetables. Rats in the wild also eat insects such as beetles and bugs as well as smaller animals such as lizards, snails, fish, and rabbits.
As for city rats, they will likely be foraging through garbage cans and landfills to find any food that they can. They will even eat roadkill that has been left on roads. Meanwhile, if a rat has found its way into your home, it will be eating whatever food you’re eating as well.
Rats have voracious appetites and will eat as much as 15 to 20 times a day. For that reason, they tend to live in areas where food is readily available or accessible to them. Rats are also nocturnal, so they actively hunt for food at night. However, rats can still be seen scavenging in the daytime. The sunlight can make it easier for them to learn the topography of their area, and thus, they’ll be able to find locations with food, water, and shelter.
Sampling is also an important part of the feeding behavior of rats. Since their diet is largely dependent on the food they’re able to scavenge each day, rats are always trying new things. However, they won’t immediately feast on the food they find. Instead, they will first sample it to determine if the food is nutritious, digestible, or toxic. Rats still do this even with the food they are already familiar with.
Lastly, rats engage in coprophagy, which means they ingest their feces on a regular basis. Rats do not fully absorb the nutrients from the food they eat, so they will consume their feces to re-ingest some of these nutrients. Rats are also attracted to dog feces and will eat them if other food sources are not available.
Rats are opportunistic feeders, so they will eat anything available to them in the wild. They are also omnivores; they consume both plants and animal matter. Their diet consists of a wide variety of food items from seeds, grains, and fruits to fungi, insects, and meat.
How Do Rats Behave in the Wild?
Wild rats are typically unsociable. They will run away whenever there is a disturbance in their environment. These rats only come out of cover when it’s time to hunt for food or when they sense food is nearby.
Wild rats are also very inquisitive. If captured and released in an area that is unfamiliar to them, they will eagerly explore their surroundings. First, they will find an area to hide in. Eventually, though, they will emerge and start to explore.
The need to explore surpasses their feelings of fear and hunger. Even if they are already hungry, they won’t hunt for food until they have familiarized themselves with their surroundings. Once they have mastered the topography of the area, they will engage in sampling to see which food is nourishing or toxic.
On the other hand, in a well-known territory, a wild rat’s foraging behavior is undeterred even if there is a risk that predators might be in the area. They will still hunt for food in areas within the proximity of their burrow despite sensing predator urine or feces.
Interestingly, a wild rat will not immediately interact with any new stimulus that they encounter in a familiar environment — regardless if it were food or not. They will avoid it for hours or even days. If that new stimulus happens to be food, they will eventually approach and sample it. If the food is not poisonous, they will come back to collect more.
Another notable aspect of wild rats’ behavior is their aggression towards other members of the same species. Wild rats usually live in colonies within burrow systems. In a small colony, there will be one male rat and several female rats — to which the male rat has a monopoly over. The male rat is territorial and will exhibit aggressive behavior to fend off other male rats.
In larger colonies, there will be several male and female rats living a burrow system. They have a social system wherein one male rat serves as the alpha. He is dominant over the other male rats. He will also be larger in size compared to his subordinates.
Some rats have omega status, which can be attained by defeating an alpha rat. They have a less confident posture compared to the alpha and may look disheveled. A colony will also have betas, which are rats that have been defeated. They are inferior to the rest of the members of the colony but still have freedom of eating or leaving for another colony.
Omega and beta rats do not usually have conflict, and a rat can rise or fall in status at any given time. The social system of wild rats can also change depending on the current density of their colony.
Social stress is an interesting phenomenon that has been observed in wild rat colonies, especially in male-dominated groups. Rats can be attacked and die without ever showing signs of being wounded. They also do not show signs of weight loss, so starvation isn’t seen as the cause of death.
Instead, the humiliation of defeat is said to cause immense stress or emotional disturbance. This results in physiological changes, specifically adrenal hyperplasia, which resembles exposure to extreme cold. Thus, these rats may die within just a few hours. Wounding can still happen in some situations.
When wild rats attack each other, they exhibit aggressive behavior such as gnashing their teeth, bristling their hair, arching their backs, and drumming their feet. They can attack by running towards their foe, jump at each other, bite, wrestle, or box — which entails pushing each other using their front paws. A fight usually ends with the loser retreating. In some cases, the winner will still chase after the losing rat.
How Do Rats Hunt in the Wild?
Wild rats are foragers. They prefer to rummage through their environment to find food such as seeds, grains, and fruits. It’s less challenging than hunting for their food. If they’re unable to find such plants in their habitat, wild rats also have the natural ability to hunt for their food.
These rats are predators so they can kill different species for food. They can prey on juvenile animals such as chicks, ducklings, or bunnies. They can also feed on the eggs of animals and hunt lizards, birds, snails, snakes, or other small mammals.
Some wild rats are semi-aquatic, so they can hunt in the water. They can hunt for fish, small turtles, crabs, mussels, and other mollusks. Wild rats engage in muricide, which entails the killing of wild mice. They can also kill other wild rats and rodents for reasons apart from being territorial.
How Do Rats Look in the Wild?
Wild rats have differences in appearance compared to urban or domesticated rats. While rats kept as pets can be white, gray, or beige, wild rats will typically have black or brown fur. However, their underbellies will be light brown or white in color.
Wild rats can vary in length, but they have the potential to grow up to about 11-12 inches and up to 16 inches if the tail is included. These rats have a mortality rate of 95% and will only live for up to 1 to 2 years. Thus, most wild rats are unable to reach their full growth potential.
Male rats are larger than females and weigh about 350 grams. Meanwhile, female rats weigh about 250 grams. Wild rats are not as heavy or lean as domesticated rats because food is not constantly available to them. Thus, wild rats will usually puff up their fur to give them a larger appearance when faced with predators.
Wild rats are scavengers and opportunistic feeders, so they feed on whatever food is available to them. Usually, their diet consists of seeds, grains, and fruits. Wild rats are omnivores so they can prey on smaller animals such as lizards, snails, fish, and rabbits.
Despite hunger motivating much of their behavior, wild rats will only hunt after exploring their surroundings thoroughly. And even then, they will only sample a small amount of food in order to determine if it’s nutritious or toxic. Wild rats also have notable behaviors, particularly the social system that exists within their colonies.
There’s so much to discover about wild rats. Hopefully, you now know much more about them, including how they eat and behave in the wild.