Rat kings

Seen here is an example of a purported rat king, a giant rat beast created when many rats get their tails tangled together. Legend has it that the rats then grow together into a single creepy entity. This mummified "rat king" was discovered in 1828 in Buchheim, Germany and is currently on display at the museum Mauritianum in Altenburg, Germany. From Wikipedia:
 Wikipedia Commons F F4 Ratking The earliest report of rat kings comes from 1564. If real, the phenomenon may have diminished when the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) displaced the black rat (R. Rattus) in the 18th century. Sightings have been sporadic in the modern era; most recently comes an Estonian farmer's discovery in the Võrumaa region on January 16, 2005.

Most extant examples are formed from black rats (R. rattus). The only find involving sawah rats (Rattus rattus brevicaudatus) occurred on March 23, 1918, in Bogor on Java, where a rat king of ten young field rats was found. Similar attachments have been reported in other species: in April 1929, a group of young forest mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) was reported in Holstein; and there have been reports of squirrel kings. The Zoological Institute of the University of Hamburg allegedly owns a specimen.

Rat kings are not to be confused with conjoined twins, which arise in many species. Rat kings would grow together only after birth.


  1. Looks more like the mummified remains of the daily catch of a professional rat catcher.

    Living rats getting their tails entangled? Come on.

  2. Well… that’s one of the more disturbing things I’ve ever seen.

    However, I too have my doubts. Wouldn’t a rat that feels itself to be stuck attack, claw and gnaw its way out of that sort of predicament, even at the cost of its own tail or perhaps its entire hind quarters?

    I expect there will be a movie called Rat King bearing mostly an accidental resemblance to this concept on the Sci-Fi Channel next month, latest. It will star Marc Dacoscos, Yancy Butler and Mickey Rooney.

  3. Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would’ve been an even cooler cartoon if the Rat King looked like this, instead of a muscleman in a ratty (pun or not, your call) leather outfit.

  4. Rat kings were hoaxes played upon the gullible uneducated class (peasants and royals both) who also believed things like cats steal your breath and bats want to tangle in your hair. It’s just cryptozoological embuggerance.

  5. I can see two rats possibly getting tangled together from time to time, but more than 2, and frequently enough for the phenomenon to enter the popular culture? Highly unlikely. Looks like a hoax on the order of Jackalopes, furred trout and Fiji Mermaids, except more difficult to debunk. There certainly would have been no lack of dead rats to carry that out with in the historical times/places noted. I recall reading about a Rat King in the last few years in a piece of fiction. Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, maybe?

  6. holy #$@&!!! that is absolutely terrifying. mind-numbingly horrific. I can’t believe the phenomenon actually exists.

  7. Terry Pratchett has a rat king as a malignant gestalt entity in “Maurice and his amazing educated rodents”, a “pied piper” parody.

  8. There’s mention of a rat king in Scott Westerfeld’s Peeps, and I got a little creeped out by the description, but I have heard stories from older relatives about discovering a rat king in an old barn, and that story was FAR more scarring to my psyche as a youngster…

  9. all I can say is — BARF!

    And I’ve had rats as pets…but still…even if this is a hoax, it’s a disgusting idea and now I’m going to have nightmares. THANKS!


  10. Some researchers claim that when X-rayed, rat king skeletons show calloused bone in the tails and atrophied tail-tips, indicating they’d lived with tails intertwined for some time before dying.

    Rat kings? Sure, why not.

  11. evil men could tie living rats together, yes

    You don’t have much experience with live rats, do you? It would take a lot of evil men who would then be very bloody, evil men.

  12. ah but I do, cute little hoodies that lovingly widdle all over you. Also feral Norways that jump right over you when cornered. I never said such evil men would be gentle about it. Humans really do suck sometimes

  13. Looks to me like what you’d get if you were after a rat colony with cats and poison.

    Cats, or some other form of physical threat, causes rats to form into defensive circle. Poison kills them like that, probably somewhere under the floorboards where you can’t get at the corpses. After a couple of decades the floor is pulled up and lo and behold, a rat king.

  14. Once you’ve been to the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a lot of phenomena start looking suspicious, same way seeing This Is Spinal Tap makes all rock interviews sound potentially absurd.

    I think my favorite display was the one about audio mimicry between beetles and faceted gemstones.

  15. I remember reading a book when I was a kid about talking rats who imprisoned a group of friends and created a sort of “human king” because their arms blended together. Not as creepy as it sounds but it still scared the hell out of me.

  16. Not saying yea or nay on the subject, but from observation (via domestic rat ownership):

    -Rat tails aren’t flibbery — they have bones in them, and while rats will often wrap their tails around an object to maintain balance, they’re not like possums. Here are some photos of rats clinging to rope, and you can see that much as they’d like to, they can’t twist their tails much beyond a weak hook (they can’t support themselves solely by their tails, either). Further, you’d have to actually break their tails in order to bend them enough to knot — they won’t accidentally do so.

    -Rat populations, while they can get huge, depend greatly on the available territory. If there’s room and resources for a large colony, fantastic, but it sounds as if “rat kings” would require an overcrowded living environment that’s unlikely to occur in the wild — see infanticide and territorial/aggressive behavior (those links also discuss the kinds of fighting and wounding that can occur — tails aren’t part of it [though the testicular area is]).

    And now… a rattie chaser: a rat, an art pose, and the temptations of candycanes.

  17. I was an animal caretaker in a research lab for a few years, and I took care of rats in cages. I have good reason to dismiss this as a hoax or at least, the result of human intervention.
    1) It is unlikely that with the difficult of a “rat king” successfully finding enough food for all mouths, that all the subunits would live. If one member died, it would immediately, within seconds, be eaten by the others. Rats are cannibals and won’t even wait for death to start eating a disabled fellow rat.
    2) It is unlikely that that many rats would mysteriously be of such a similar age that they would survive together. Even if this sort of entanglement was possible, you would expect to see fragments of tails of the dead ones.
    3) Rats usually go into burrows and tight places. This mass of rats would not be able to hide or locomote effectively. It would be taken out by a preditor.
    4) There is no chance that this many rats could feed normally, unless they were in a bag of grain or a silo or nearly endless food store. Rats are competitive for food, so there would be deaths from fighting for resources.
    5) Rat tails are not like string. They bend but are just flexible, still stiff enough that they would not get tangled like this. This was a prankster’s macrame/weaving project, somebody with a bag of dead rats who went to some effort to carefully intertwine the tails. The result is as convincing as the Hodag photos of Rhinelander Wisconsin.

    Garter snakes overwinter in protected places all balled up in a snake mass, but they successfully sort themselves out in the spring. For anyone who is still a believer, go watch a cage of rats for a day and I think their behavior will convince you otherwise.

  18. antfarmer: “Even if this sort of entanglement was possible, you would expect to see fragments of tails of the dead ones.”

    I’m afraid that this was the proverbial straw. I’m definitely going to have nightmares now.

  19. oohh..The poor little fellaz..I like taking pictures of dead animals, but only to pay my respect to them, ‘coz they are usually just abandoned and rotting somewhere totally forgotten..But to tangle them together to make a morbid flower and naming them a “king”? hhmmm…. Why didn’t I think of that? :)) Well I guess because ‘respect’ means letting them deteriorate with dignity and in peace… Man, I’ve just realized I sound like a sicko. I am not! I hope…

  20. They have one on display, in a jar I think, of a rat king consisting of a family of juvenile rattus rattus at the Otago Museum in Dunedin, NZ. Apparently horse hair used to build their nest started the knots. It’s in the “”Animal Attic” at the top of the museum, which is a very cool/creepy place indeed.

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