Rats' nests are rich with unrecorded history and urgent scientific data

Pack rats, aka woodrats, build their nests, called middens, from plant debris, rocks, animal parts, paper, and almost any other bits of detritus nearby. Frequently, they urinate on their middens. The urine crystalizes and encases the nest material, preserving it for as long as 50,000 years by some estimates. For paleobotanists, middens are a great source of information about how flora has changed over time. Zoologists study the animal remains and poop. And climatologists analyze the material for insight into past climates, even the most recent ice age that ended more than 11,000 years ago. In Smithsonian, Sadie Witkowski digs into the topic, including a story about what historians learned excavating rats' nests in the walls of the 1808 Charleston, South Carolina home of slave trader Nathaniel Russel:

Among the mass of organic matter, they found sewing pins, buttons, marbles, part of a uniform waistcoat, and even fragments of printed paper that could be dated to November 1833. The paper was darkened and curled but still legible once it was gently opened.

“It was protected from rain and moisture, and even though it’s sooty, it didn’t burn,” (University of Delaware art conservator Susan) Buck says. “So we just have all these fragile materials that normally wouldn’t survive.” Among the material, the team recovered scraps of an early writing primer, suggesting some of the enslaved workers living in the kitchen house has been learning to read and write.

To move beyond the written record, historians and conservators have looked for new clues in unlikely places.

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British celebrity Freddie Starr "definitely dead"

Freddie Starr, a stalwart of British light entertainment most famous for a fabricated news story alleging he ate a hamster and lately implicated in historical sexual abuse scandals, was reportedly found dead today at his apartment in Spain. He is "definitely" dead, according to a person who has seen the body. The Guardian reports:

At the height of his fame, Starr was known by fans for his eccentric and often unpredictable behaviour.

In 1986 he was famously at the centre of one of the best-known newspaper headlines when The Sun splashed with: “Freddie Starr ate my hamster.”

The story claimed Starr placed the creature between two slices of bread and ate it at a friend’s home after returning from a performance in Manchester. But in his 2001 autobiography Unwrapped, Starr said the incident never took place.

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Watch firefighters rescue rat stuck in manhole cover

On Sunday in Bensheim, Germany, two children spotted a rat stuck in the vent of a manhole cover. Animal welfare organization Berufstierrettung Rhein-Neckar sent out two rescue workers who were unable to free the rodent. From Smithsonian:

That’s when things get surreal. The 8-member Auerbach volunteer fire brigade soon arrived on the scene wearing their firefighting gear and began a 25-minute rescue operation posted on YouTube. First they subdued the rat around the neck using a pole with a restraining loop at the end. Then, using large, black professional-looking wedges they popped up the heavy manhole cover and animal rescuer Michael Sehr was able to wiggle and work the portly little nibbler loose before releasing him back into the sewer...

The children who first found the rat also thanked the firefighters with a handmade, rat-themed thank you card.

Here's video of the operation:

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Mice can get into amazingly tight spaces

I spent the last few days fighting off a mouse infestation in our RV. So far I've trapped and tossed six of the furry little bastards out on their asses. As I began the search for where they were getting into our rig, yesterday, I got to wondering how much space they can actually squeeze through.

According to this video, I'm doomed. Read the rest

How to: tickle a rat

In a new meta-analysis published in PLOS One, researchers from Purdue, Stanford and the Canadian Council on Animal Care look at the different techniques used to induce laughter in rats in order to improve their wellbeing and capture their laughter, which is delightful. Read the rest

How to make a simple pipe mousetrap

Chris Notap likes to make humane mousetraps. He's a recreational trapper, I guess. This is the fifth one in his series of homemade traps.

Another of my best and easiest homemade humane mouse traps! The 5th in a series! Easy to build, easy to bait, easy to release and best of all, it's humane and there's no springs or levers to wind up or load! The mouse or vole cannot escape or chew his way out of this mouse trap. Mice are not harmed in any way during capture. As a matter of fact, the mouse or vole remains very calm since there is no snapping latches to scare him! Mice can be released calmly and easily without fear of getting bitten even by the most "fearful of mice" person!! Simple operation makes this diy homemade vole mouse trap fun and easy to build and adjust for easy trapping and best of all easy release. Just use a dab of peanut butter to bait the trap. It's the best do it yourself homemade humane live release vole mouse trap you'll find! A few common items is all you'll need. I'll be building a humane squirrel trap next so you can capture and release squirrels easily too so subscribe and don't miss my upcoming "diy humane squirrel trap". Thanks for watching. I also have a "diy humane rat trap" coming soon too!

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Mad hamster performs backflips

"Crazy Back Flipping Hamster keeps backflipping for no reason while the other hamsters just watch," reads the description on the YouTube video. If anything, though, the other hamsters appear to me to remain completely indifferent to their co-hamster's acrobatics. Read the rest

NYC rats walking upright, holding rodent Burning Man

Pizza Rat was just the most brazen example of the rats that are apparently ravaging New York City this year. Apparently it's a record year for the number of rodent complaint calls that citizens have made to the city of New York.

Manhattan Upper West Side resident Nora Prentice says this about an infestation of hundreds of rats in her neighborhood park:

"It's like the Burning Man of rats," she told the Associated Press. "They're just sitting there in a lawn chair waiting for you."

Meanwhile city comptroller Scott Stringer has noticed that rodent evolution has apparently gone awry: "I've seen rats walking upright, saying, 'Good morning, Mr. Comptroller,'" he said. "It's unsightly to see rats running through neighborhoods like they actually bought a co-op somewhere."

I suggest that the city issue every brave soul a copy of Ike Matthews' 1898 classic book "Full Revelations of a Professional Rat-Catcher After 25 Years' Experience." Read the rest

How rats can swim up your toilet to terrorize you

Rats can tread water for up to three days, and hold their breath under water for three minutes. Read the rest