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How Does a Rat Find Food?

| Updated September 26, 2017

About Rats

There are many different animals called rats, and they all have different behaviors, diets and strategies. The word "rat" is not a precise scientific term and is sometimes applied to animals that are not closely related. Generally, larger, long-tailed rodents are called rats, whereas smaller ones are called mice. The best known rats are brown rats. They live on every continent but Antarctica and are commonly kept as family pets and used in laboratory experiments.

Brown Rat Basics

Brown rats are omnivores, meaning that they can eat a wide variety of different foods. They will eat cereal grains, fruits and vegetables, scavenge for scraps left by larger predators and hunt small animals. Rats have extremely acute senses of smell and hearing but a poor sense of sight. They are nocturnal creatures that live communally in burrows. They are extremely intelligent, particularly for rodents, and are excellent swimmers. The brown rat uses all of its abilities to find food.

Brown Rat Feeding

The brown rat primarily uses its sense of smell to find food. Brown rats can recognize appetizing scents like humans but have much more highly developed noses and can locate food from further away. Once the rat finds the food, it carries it in its mouth and drags it off somewhere safe to eat. When hunting, brown rats use a variety of different skills. For example, brown rats living near fisheries sometimes hunt very small fish. They first locate the fish by smell or from memory. They then find out more precisely where the fish are using their sense of hearing. They dive into the water, catch the fish in their mouth and take it away. Similarly, brown rats who infest human settlements might have to use other skills besides a sense of smell to find food. They have to learn to navigate the space behind the wall and tunnel into cabinets to find food.