Rats” backwards spells “star”

Tue, Apr 3, 2012 (5:56 p.m.)

Any regular reader of Neuropsychopharmacology - and you know who you are - who skimmed past Paul W. Czoty and David CS Roberts' "Thinking Outside the Synapse: Pharmacokinetic-Based Medications for Cocaine Addiction" was probably struck by an implication that different rats have varying levels of work ethic. Like Benny in the adjoining cubicle, a rat can be a worker rat or a slacker rat.

Curiously, the report revealed that slacker rats work harder after a little bit of caffeine, and worker rats get lazier after a mid-afternoon jolt of the stuff. Further it is assumed, for my reasons alone, that Parisian rats that enjoy a glass of wine in the afternoon also enjoy unfiltered cigarettes and Jerry Lewis films.

This, of course, is all interesting enough to cause for pause, but not to dwell, I say. And pause I did before moving on to tasks of that day.

Fresh rat news caught my attention later that evening. Researchers have recently determined that rats match humans in decision-making. Apparently, the more multi-sensory information a rat has to work with, the more complete the decision making process is, and the most optimal decision is made. The process is as complex as ours, and it explains why rats are the Roadrunners to our Wile E. Coyotes.

This also partially explains why my late pet prairie dog, named after Mayberry's town drunk, was so smart. When Otis became sick with the respiratory ailment that eventually took her life she knew to, and how to, wake me so that I would take her to a steamy room to allow her to breath. She was also litter box trained, walked on a leash, and enjoyed Jerry Lewis films.

There's a lot of cool stuff to know about prairie dogs, but perhaps that's another blog.

Anyway, the universe likes to work in the Rule of Threes, so it was no surprise that on this same day I learned that Gambian pouched rats, a species that can weigh in at up to nine pounds, have reemerged in the Florida Everglades. It seems that officials thought that they had ridded them from South Florida's wobbly ecosystem in 2009. But alas, they are back, and Wile E. Coyote had fallen into the canyon.

Gambian pouched rats can have five litters every nine months, and each litter can have up to four offspring. That's up to 180 pounds of rat reproduction in the span of a human's single gestation period, a feat only matched by the octomom.

Gambian pouched rats are also known carriers of monkeypox - such a jovial name for such a serious disease. Gambian pouched rats spread virus to some prairie dogs a few years back, who in turn infected their owners - which would have been nice to know back then when Otis was getting all-up-in-my-face to wake me up so I could help her breathe.

In hindsight, that the Gambians have made their way back to thrive in the Everglades can't be a shock to anyone. The slacker and the worker rats are obviously all hopped up on caffeine, are taking shifts in the reproduction process, and making very prudent decisions about their comeback.

Meanwhile, someplace in rodent heaven, Otis is saying, "I tried to warn you. And, by the way, the leash thing was humiliating."

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