Unpacking the Symbolism of Rats: What Do Rats Symbolize?

Rats are one of the most misunderstood creatures on this planet. At first glance, they may seem like nothing more than pests that should be exterminated at all costs. However, a deeper look at these creatures reveals that they actually have a rich symbolism that dates back centuries. In many cultures around the world, rats are seen as symbols of cunning, intelligence, and resourcefulness.

In Hindu mythology, the rat is revered as the mount of the god Ganesha, who represents wisdom, intellect, and new beginnings. Similarly, in Chinese culture, rats are seen as symbols of prosperity, good luck, and social adaptability. Meanwhile, in Western culture, rats often represent darkness, filth, and disease. Despite this negative connotation, rats have also been associated with rebellion and inner strength, as demonstrated by the popular book and film series “Ratatouille.”

In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the symbolism of rats, exploring their various cultural associations and examining how they have been portrayed in art, literature, and pop culture throughout history. Whether you find these creatures fascinating or revolting, there’s no denying that rats have played a significant role in our collective imagination. So let’s dive in and discover what these rodents really say about our world.

Rats as Pests

Rats are notorious pests, known for their ability to infest homes and businesses. These rodents are extremely adaptable, allowing them to thrive in both urban and rural environments. They can enter buildings through small openings and gaps and can squeeze through holes the size of a quarter. Once inside, rats can cause a wide range of problems.

  • Rodent Damage: Rats will chew through anything they can get their teeth on, including wood, plastic, and even electrical wires. This can cause significant damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure.
  • Contamination: Rats can carry a variety of diseases, including salmonella, hantavirus, and rat-bite fever. They can also contaminate food and water sources with their urine and droppings.
  • Noise: Rats are nocturnal animals and are active at night. The sounds of their scratching, scurrying, and squeaking can be disturbing to people trying to sleep.

If you suspect you have a rat infestation, it is important to address the issue promptly. Rats breed quickly, and a small infestation can quickly turn into a large one. Pest control professionals can help you identify the source of the infestation and develop a plan to eliminate the problem.

Rats in Mythology

Throughout history, rats have played a significant role in mythology and folklore. These rodents have been both revered and reviled in different cultures, with their symbolism varying depending on the myth or legend.

Symbolism of rats in myths and legends

  • In ancient Egypt, rats were associated with the god Horus, who was considered a protector of the pharaohs. Rats were also often depicted on amulets and charms to ward off evil spirits.
  • In Hindu mythology, rats symbolize the god Ganesh’s vehicle, who is known for his wisdom and ability to remove obstacles. In many sculptures and paintings, Ganesh is depicted riding on a rat.
  • In Chinese mythology, rats are one of the twelve animals of the zodiac and represent wealth and prosperity. According to legend, the Jade Emperor held a race between twelve animals, and the rat won by riding on the back of the ox.

Rats in Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, rats were not held in high regard. They were often associated with disease and filth, and many stories depicted them as pests that caused destruction and chaos.

One of the most well-known rats in Greek mythology was the giant rodent known as the Rodent of Calydon. According to legend, the creature showed up in the city of Calydon and started ravaging crops and terrorizing the people. The king of Calydon offered a reward to anyone who could kill the beast, and eventually, the famous hunter Meleager was able to slay the creature.

Rats in Native American mythology

In Native American mythology, rats are often seen as tricksters and are known for their cunning and resourcefulness. Many tribes tell stories of rats outsmarting predators or stealing food and supplies from humans.

TribesMyth NameRat’s Role
CheyenneThe Origin of RatsA rat is responsible for bringing the first humans to Earth
Plains tribesCoyote and RatTwo trickster animals team up to outsmart the other animals

Overall, rats have held various meanings in different cultures throughout history. While some consider them pests to be eradicated, others see them as valuable creatures with important symbolic roles.

Rats as carriers of disease

Rats have been associated with carrying and transmitting various diseases for centuries. They can harbor multiple bacteria, viruses, and parasites, which pose a significant risk to human health. The following are some of the most common diseases that rats are known to carry and spread to humans:

  • Plague: Also known as the Black Death, plague is a highly infectious and deadly disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which rats can carry in their fleas. If left untreated, the disease can be fatal within days.
  • Hantavirus: This virus is transmitted through contact with infected rat droppings, urine, or saliva. It can cause severe respiratory illness and can be fatal in some cases.
  • Salmonella: Rats can carry this bacteria in their droppings and spread it through contaminated food or water, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and fever in humans.

Rats can also spread other diseases such as typhus, leptospirosis, and rat-bite fever, among others. They can transmit these diseases through direct contact, bite wounds, or contact with their urine or feces. Therefore, it is crucial to take preventive measures to avoid rat infestations in and around your home or workplace.

Preventive measures include proper sanitation practices such as cleaning up food spillage and properly disposing of garbage, sealing off any possible entry points in homes or buildings, and keeping a tidy and clutter-free environment. If you suspect a rat infestation, it’s essential to contact a pest control professional immediately to eliminate the problem and minimize the risk of disease transmission.


Rats have long represented disease and pestilence in various cultures around the world. The association is not unfounded as rats are known vectors of various diseases that can impact human health significantly. By taking preventive measures and being vigilant of rat infestation signs, we can significantly reduce the risk of disease transmission and keep ourselves and our families safe.

PlagueFever, chills, weakness, swollen lymph nodes, coughAntibiotics
HantavirusFever, muscle aches, shortness of breathSupportive care
SalmonellaVomiting, diarrhea, fever, abdominal crampsHydration, antibiotics if severe

(Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Rats in Literature

Rats have been an essential element in several literary works throughout history. They have been featured in different forms, such as villains, background elements, or important characters in their own right. Here are some notable examples of rats in literature:

  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin: This famous fairy tale revolves around a rat infestation in the town of Hamelin, where the authorities hire a piper to lure the rodents away using music. However, the piper takes revenge on the town by also luring away all the children. Rats, in this story, symbolize chaos and loss.
  • 1984 by George Orwell: In this dystopian novel, Winston Smith’s fear of rats is used as a torture method by the Party to brainwash him. The irony is that the Party fears rats more than Winston does and is unable to control them. Rats, in this story, symbolize fear and the inability to contain something.
  • The Secret of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien: This children’s book tells the story of a group of intelligent rats who escape from a laboratory and form their own society. The rats, along with other creatures, must face challenges to survive in the outside world. Rats, in this story, symbolize intelligence and adaptability.

Rats have also been featured in poetry, plays, and other forms of literature. They are commonly used as a symbol of filth, disease, and deceit. However, some works portray them in a positive light as survivors and problem-solvers.

The following table lists some of the most famous literary works that feature rats:

Book TitleAuthorDescription
The Rats in the WallsH.P. LovecraftA short horror story about rats that live in the walls of a manor and drive the protagonist insane.
RatcatcherSeamus HeaneyA poem that tells the story of a legendary rat catcher who helps a town get rid of a rat infestation.
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated RodentsTerry PratchettA humorous fantasy novel about a talking cat and a group of rats who travel together and scam people by pretending to get rid of rat problems.

In conclusion, rats have been used as a symbol in literature for centuries and have taken on different meanings depending on the context. From disease and death to intelligence and survival, rats can represent a wide range of concepts and emotions.

Rats in Art

Throughout history, rats have been depicted in art for a variety of reasons. From symbolic to practical, rats have been included in everything from renaissance paintings to modern street art. Here are a few examples:

  • Symbolism: In medieval and renaissance paintings, rats were often used as a symbol of filth and decay. They were frequently included in scenes of hell to represent the souls of sinners. Alternatively, they were shown feeding on scraps to portray a sense of poverty.
  • Practical: During the Dutch Golden Age, rats were a popular subject matter in still life paintings. These works were intended to showcase the wealth and success of the painter, as rats were a common pest in the homes of the lower class.
  • Modern: In contemporary street art, rats have become a beloved subject for artists like Banksy and Blek le Rat. These artists use the rat as a symbol of resistance and rebellion against societal norms.

Banksy’s Rat

Banksy, one of the most well-known street artists of our time, frequently includes rats in his work. In one of his most famous pieces, a rat is seen holding a paint roller and creating the word “exit” on a wall. This piece is widely interpreted as a commentary on Brexit and its impact on the UK.

Another of Banksy’s rat pieces shows a rat wearing a beret and holding a paintbrush. The rat is shown gazing at a blank canvas, as if contemplating what to paint. This piece has been interpreted as a commentary on the artistic process and the role of street art in society.

Rats in ArtSymbolismPracticalModern
Medieval and Renaissance paintingsUsed to represent filth and povertyN/AN/A
Dutch Golden Age still lifesN/AUsed to show wealth and successN/A
Contemporary street artN/AN/AUsed as a symbol of resistance and rebellion

No matter the era or style, rats continue to be a fascinating subject for artists to explore and interpret in their work.

Rats in Popular Culture

Rats, known for their cunningness and agility, have become a common symbol in popular culture. They are often portrayed as filthy and disease-ridden creatures in movies and television shows. However, rats have also been used in more positive contexts, such as team mascots and children’s books. Below are some examples of rats in popular culture.

6. Rats in Video Games

The rat has made numerous appearances in video games over the years. They are often portrayed as pests to be eliminated or avoided, but some games have taken a more nuanced approach to these creatures.

One prime example is the roleplaying game “Skaven” in the “Warhammer” series. The Skaven are a race of humanoid rats that live beneath the earth. They are known for their ruthless cunning and willingness to do anything to gain power. In the game, players can control a Skaven army and battle other players or computer-controlled opponents.

Another popular game featuring rats is “Ratatouille,” based on the Pixar movie of the same name. In the game, players control the lovable rat chef Remy as he navigates the hectic kitchen of a French restaurant. The game’s mechanics are similar to popular platformers, with Remy leaping and climbing his way through various obstacles.

Here are some other notable video game appearances by rats:

  • “Dark Souls” – Players encounter giant rats in the sewers of the game’s world.
  • “Banjo-Kazooie” – A giant rat named Mr. Vile challenges players to a series of mini-games.
  • “The Elder Scrolls” series – Rats are common enemies that players encounter in dungeons and sewers.
Video GameRat CharacterRat Role
Skaven (Warhammer)VariousControllable army
RatatouilleRemyPlayable character
Dark SoulsGiant ratsEnemy
Banjo-KazooieMr. VileMini-game opponent
The Elder ScrollsRatsCommon enemy

Overall, rats in video games have been used in a variety of ways, from nuisance enemies to lovable protagonists. Their agility and cunningness make them a versatile addition to game worlds.

Rats as Pets

Rats may not be the first animal that comes to mind when considering a household pet, but they are actually becoming increasingly popular as furry companions. When it comes to symbolism, having a rat as a pet can represent a sense of unconventional or nonconformist ownership. It can also symbolize embracing the misunderstood and overlooked, similar to how rats are often viewed in our society as dirty or disease-ridden creatures. However, as pets, rats are clean and social animals who can form strong bonds with their owners.

  • Personality Traits: Rats have unique and often charming personalities. They are social creatures who thrive on interaction and play. They are also incredibly intelligent and can be trained to do simple tricks and even respond to their owner’s voice or name.
  • Maintenance: Contrary to popular belief, rats are clean animals who groom themselves regularly. They are also tidy animals who instinctively choose a specific spot to use as a bathroom. Rats require a comfortable cage, fresh bedding, and a balanced diet of pellets, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
  • Bonding: Rats enjoy being with their owners and will often seek out attention and affection. They can form strong bonds with their owners and even show signs of separation anxiety if left alone for extended periods.

Beyond the symbolism that owning a rat can represent, they also make surprisingly wonderful pets. They are fun, social creatures that can add joy and companionship to your life. However, rats are not the right pet for everyone. They require proper care and attention, and it’s important to do your research and ensure that you are prepared for the responsibility of owning a rat before bringing one into your home.

Unique personality and social natureShort lifespan (2-3 years)
Low maintenance (compared to dogs and cats)Can bite if not socialized properly
Surprisingly clean and tidy animalsNot suitable for young children

If you believe that owning a rat as a pet may be right for you, reach out to local breeders or adoption agencies to find a furry companion that will bring joy to your life.

Rats in Scientific Research

Rats have been used in scientific research for over a century, providing insights into human physiology, behavior, and disease. Here are some key areas where rats have played a significant role:

  • Pharmacology: Rats are commonly used to test the safety and efficacy of new drugs as they share many physiological and genetic similarities with humans, making them good models for drug testing.
  • Neuroscience: Rats have been used extensively in neuroscience research, particularly for studying memory, learning, addiction, and depression.
  • Behavioral research: Rats are highly social animals with complex behaviors, making them useful for studying social interaction, aggression, and sexual behavior.

Rats are also used in research related to cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, as they can be genetically modified to exhibit symptoms similar to these diseases. Their reproductive cycle and shorter lifespan also make them ideal for longitudinal studies and testing environmental factors.

One of the most significant contributions of rats to science has been the development of the ‘rat maze’, a tool used to test learning and memory. In 1949, psychologist Edward Tolman discovered that rats were capable of mapping their environment and remembering a route to find food. This discovery paved the way for further research on cognitive processes and is still used today to study the effects of drugs and ageing on memory.

High breeding rate and short gestation periodNot exact replicas of human physiology and behavior
Easy to handle and maintain in laboratory conditionsCan exhibit significant variability, requiring larger sample sizes
Cost-effective compared to other animal modelsEthical issues regarding animal welfare

Despite their usefulness in scientific research, there have been ethical concerns raised regarding the use of rats and other animals in experiments. Some animal welfare organizations advocate for better regulation and reduced use of animals in research, while others argue that the benefits of using animals for medical advancements outweigh the potential harm caused to the animals.

Overall, rats have played a vital role in advancing scientific research and will likely continue to be used in the foreseeable future, while scientists also explore other ethical ways of conducting research.

Rat Extermination Methods

Rats are a common household pest that can cause damage to property and even spread diseases. In addition to being a nuisance, rats also hold symbolic meaning in different cultures. While some cultures view rats as a symbol of luck and wealth, others see them as a symbol of disease and filth.

If you’re dealing with a rat infestation, it’s important to take action quickly to prevent them from causing further damage. There are various methods for rat extermination, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. Here are some popular rat extermination methods:

  • Poison baits – These baits contain chemicals that are toxic to rats, causing them to die after consumption. However, this method can also pose a risk to pets and other wildlife that may ingest the bait accidentally.
  • Traps – There are different types of traps available such as snap traps, glue traps, and live traps. Snap traps use a spring mechanism to kill the rat, glue traps capture the rat, and live traps allow you to release the rat in a different location. However, trapping rats can be time-consuming and emotional for some people.
  • Electronic devices – These devices emit high-frequency sound waves that are supposed to repel rats. However, there is limited evidence to support their effectiveness.
  • Professional exterminators – Hiring a professional may be necessary for severe infestations. Exterminators can offer various methods and may advise on prevention techniques.

No matter what method you choose, it’s important to seal any gaps and holes in your home that rats may be using to enter. Additionally, keeping your home clean and free of food debris can help prevent future infestations.

Poison baitsEasy to use, effective in killing ratsPose a risk to pets and wildlife, rats may die in hard to reach places causing odors and attracting other pests
TrapsVarious options available, can be cost-effective, allows for humane release in the case of live trapsCan be time-consuming, emotional for some people
Electronic devicesNo mess or cleanup requiredEffectiveness is questionable, only target rats and not the root cause of the infestation
Professional exterminatorsOffer various methods, may advise on prevention techniquesMay be more expensive, may require multiple visits

Choosing the right method for rat extermination depends on the severity of the infestation, personal beliefs, and possible risks. It’s important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each method and take preventative measures to avoid future infestations.

Rat Infestations in Urban Areas

Rats have become synonymous with dirty, rundown areas of cities and towns. They are seen as pests that invade our homes, businesses, and public spaces. But what do rats symbolize in the context of urban infestations?

At their core, rat infestations are a symbol of neglect and decay within urban environments. They thrive in places where garbage and waste have accumulated, where buildings and structures are not well-maintained, and where there is a lack of cleanliness and hygiene. The presence of rats is a clear indicator that something is amiss within the community.

  • Rat infestations often occur in areas with high poverty rates and low levels of education. These communities may lack the resources and knowledge needed to properly manage waste and sanitation.
  • In some cases, rat infestations may also be a symbol of gentrification and displacement. As neighborhoods undergo rapid development and new residents move in, rats may be pushed out of their original habitats and forced to seek shelter elsewhere.
  • Rat infestations can also be a symbol of our impact on the environment. Cities and towns have disrupted natural ecosystems, and rats have found ways to adapt and thrive in these new environments.

However, it’s important to note that not all urban areas with rat infestations are necessarily neglected or in a state of decay. Rat populations can also be influenced by factors such as climate, vegetation, and geography.

To better understand rat infestations in urban areas, it can be helpful to look at the numbers. According to a study by Rentokil, a pest control company, the top 10 cities in the United States with the highest rat infestations in 2020 were:

Los Angeles2
New York3
Washington, DC4
San Francisco5

These cities have all faced their fair share of challenges when it comes to rat infestations. However, it’s important to understand that the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The factors that contribute to rat infestations are complex and multifaceted.

Regardless, it’s clear that rat infestations are a symbol of larger issues within urban environments. By addressing the root causes of these infestations, we can work towards creating cleaner, healthier, and more vibrant communities.

FAQs: What do rats symbolize?

1. Are rats considered pests or vermin?

Yes, rats are generally considered pests and vermin because they can cause damage to crops, food, and property. They are also known to carry diseases that can be harmful to humans.

2. What do rats represent in Chinese culture?

In Chinese culture, rats symbolize wealth and prosperity. They are believed to bring good luck and are often depicted with a coin or other symbol of wealth in their mouth.

3. What do rats symbolize in dreams?

Dreaming about rats can have various interpretations, but it often represents feelings of anxiety, fear, or dirtiness. It can also symbolize hidden fears or insecurities that need to be addressed.

4. What do rats represent in literature and media?

Rats are often portrayed as cunning and intelligent characters in literature and media. They can be seen as tricksters or survivors, representing the ability to adapt and thrive in harsh environments.

5. What do rats symbolize in spiritual beliefs?

Rats can be viewed differently in different spiritual beliefs. In Hinduism, they are considered sacred animals and are worshipped as the vehicle of Lord Ganesha. In some Native American cultures, they symbolize transformation and growth.

6. What is the historical symbolism of rats?

In medieval Europe, rats were associated with the spread of the Black Death and were seen as a symbol of death and decay. They were also associated with biblical stories of plagues and floods.

7. How do rats fit into the food chain and ecosystem?

Rats are an important part of the food chain and ecosystem. They are prey for many predators such as owls, hawks, and snakes. They also play a role in seed dispersal and soil fertility as they consume and distribute plant matter.

Closing: What do rats symbolize?

Thanks for reading about what rats symbolize. Despite being considered a pest by many, rats have various meanings and associations throughout history and different cultures. Whether in literature, dreams, or spiritual beliefs, rats can represent different aspects of life such as adaptability, growth, or even death. Even in nature, rats play an important role in the food chain and ecosystem. So the next time you encounter a rat, consider the different ways it may symbolize something beyond just a pest. Come back and visit us again for more interesting insights!