April 11, 2019

The White House's biggest rats surely have stories to tell. Too bad they're being killed off.

Outside the executive mansion, traps have been set up to poison not the leakers who seem so willing to spill President Trump's secrets, but the literal animals that have taken over Washington. Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs noticed the black boxes, set up amid an absurd rodent surge throughout the capital city, and tweeted photos Thursday:

Rat talk really ramped up in December, when Fox News' John Roberts tweeted about a "big brown rat" scurrying near his foot on the White House's North Lawn. It soon became clear that the rodents were ubiquitous in the D.C. swamp, with rat complaints to city government hitting an all-time high in 2017. The city allocated an additional $906,000 to tackle the problem starting in January, but the White House, it seems, went for the taxpayer-friendly option. Kathryn Krawczyk

December 5, 2018

Rodents may have never stopped a New York City subway, but they did delay a much bigger journey slated for Tuesday.

On Monday, NASA was loading up a SpaceX mission to resupply the International Space Station when it says it found a Houston-level problem: The bars being packed to feed the station's mice were moldy. That led NASA to officially move the space station's delivery to Wednesday afternoon.

NASA is usually a pretty reliable delivery service, reserving delays for weather or technical issues, or because the thing set to be launched isn't even built yet. But in this case, a "rodent investigation" happening on the space station really needed a mouse chow refill, NASA said, and the 5,600-pound resupply mission simply couldn't ship without it. Luckily, the station's mice can expect their takeout in a cool two days.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has not yet found a way to prevent mouse food mold, but he probably will. Watch the 1:16 p.m. launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral here. Kathryn Krawczyk

February 24, 2015

Looks like we owe some rats a very belated apology.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that gerbils, not black rats, were to blame for recurring epidemics of the bubonic plague across Europe.

"If we're right, we'll have to rewrite that part of history," professor Nils Christian Stenseth, of the University of Oslo and an author on the study, told BBC News.

Scientists originally thought that recurrences of the Black Death — which began in the 14th century — were caused by infected rats; humans became sick when fleas jumped from their rodent hosts onto people. But by analyzing tree-ring records in Europe against the timelines of plague outbreaks, researchers now believe gerbils, which thrive during wet springs followed by warm summers — the same weather conditions that matched up with outbreaks — were the plague-carrying problem.

"Whenever there were good conditions for gerbils and fleas in central Asia, some years later the bacteria shows up in harbor cities in Europe, and then spreads across the continent," Stenseth said.

Sorry, rats. Thanks a lot, gerbils. Sarah Eberspacher

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