Behaviors of “Released” Laboratory Rats
This set of videos shows 50 research lab rats who were returned to a (controlled, safe) "wild" environment, and then filmed "doing their thing". It provides a great set of clips for what rats want and need to do in an ideal enriched environment. At the bottom are many photographs with rich illustrations, taken from the film.
Watching these rats first peer over the release cages, into their new world, and then take the risks to enter it - purely joyous. It's fascinating to see them show curiosity and purpose while scampering, foraging, exploring, and making a home.
Below are several clips from the film; scroll down to the topic that most interests you.
Berdoy, M. 2002. The Laboratory Rat: A Natural History. Film, 27 min. Ratlife.org)
The Laboratory Rat - A Natural History, Manuel Berdoy, Oxford University.
"Dr. Manuel Berdoy, a zoologist at Oxford University, released 50 laboratory strains of the domestic [Norway] Brown Rat back into a controlled wild environment in order to show that generations of domestication have not removed a rat's natural range of behaviours and needs. The rats were released into an outdoor enclosure and filmed as they competed in the same manner as their wild cousins. The rats instantly displayed a multitude of behavioural instincts that a cage in a laboratory had kept suppressed and soon adapted to their new environment very successfully."
CAUTION: These videos are posted on JoinRats to show the natural activities of pet rats when they have an environment closest to that of the wild. The researchers examined many other behaviors, including mating, agonistic behaviors, birth, death (infanticide), and the presence of predators. Please do not put intact males and females into any free-range environment. Please do not breed rats irresponsibly. Please do not allow cats, dogs, or other species access to your rats without prior socialization and protection against injury. Please do not provoke aggression between rats.
First freedom for 50 lab rats!
Above, first Freedom! Here we see rats drawn to explore the unknown, even when it's scary, and within the first few hours of their release from research laboratory cages, scampering and racing in big hops. Does this give you ideas to help your rats achieve the same?
Foraging - The more complicated it is, the more stimulating it is.
Does foraging sound boring? Oh but it's a goal of life, to find food. Good foods are hidden and must be dug or climbed for. New foods need to be approached with caution, and tested. These lab rats show how naturally they become acrobats working hard to reach their blackberries.
Agility. Dangling upside down from branches is a special skill, and even previously caged research lab rats can do it well.
Above, more foraging for food but with special emphasis on agility training. It turns out rats do belong in trees, but if we set some up for them, their safety comes first. Give them some kind of soft trampoline that they can fall onto, close to the floor. Rats venture into precarious situations cautiously and develop the needed physical strength and balancing skills over time. The more we give them safe, controlled opportunities, the better for their mental health as well.
Nighttime - Just what do rats do at night, and how do we help them do it?
Above, exploring at night. When rats are comfortable with their world, they build burrows and roads. They race around like crazy, continuing to explore. They may forage, looking for and accumulating food.
Rats organize their world.
Above: When you give rats space, they become quite familiar with the area and objects in it, and establish runs. If you disrupt that space, they need some time to adapt and feel comfortable again.
Pups go exploring, and learn from their elders.
Above: Please do not breed rats irresponsibly. This video is shown on JoinRats only to illustrate how rats learn from each other.
Extending the burrows = Prelude to Taking Over the World
An important difference between specially-bred research lab rats, and the common pet rat, is that almost all pet rats are infected from birth with a serious bacteria that initially resides in their respiratory systems, Mycoplasma pulmonis, and one of the most dangerous ways to enable the bacteria to do the most damage quickly is to not clean urine-soaked bedding (ammonia being the problem irritant).
Please do not let your pet rats create the kind of urine-soaked bedding that these laboratory rats created. It is up to humans to keep pet rats' bedding in a constantly clean state. Straw can be fun, but not dusty straw, and never allow straw to become urine-soaked.
Above, an extensive burrow complex - rats extend and expand their world. Of course, their ultimate aim is to take over the world, and when we give them the tools to do that, they forge ahead. Did you ever wonder why rats pee in their beds (unless taught otherwise)? Steaming, fermenting urine from the rats' hay bale complex during cold nights may explain it. How tragic that almost all pet rats suffer from Mycoplasma pulmonis such that allowing an ammonia build-up might be a quick road to death.
If you don't have the resources to create a running-water pool, fresh growing grass, ladders to climb, bushes, blackberry branches, solid soil for digging into (but not out of), 8-foot wooden walls lined with steel to contain the rats, and a wire top ceiling to keep out the birds, dumcats, and strange wild rats, then consider something less sophisticated. An example room is below, and please visit the other galleries in the Enrichment section of JoinRats for more ideas on how to give your pet rats ways to mimic the activities of wild rats.
These videos are posted on JoinRats to show the natural activities of pet rats when they have an environment closest to that of the wild. But actually taking a pet rat outside and releasing her to play, could be very dangerous. Please review "Rats Outdoors?" for examples from real life of the risks.
In addition, The researchers examined many other behaviors, including mating, agonistic behaviors, birth, death (infanticide), and the presence of predators. Please do not put intact males and females into any free-range environment. Please do not breed rats irresponsibly. Please do not allow cats, dogs, or other species access to your rats without prior socialization and protection against injury. Please do not provoke aggression between rats.