Do you hate rats? If so, you’re not going to like what Dr Jan Zalasiewicz, a University of Leicester paleobiologist, has to say about the future of Earth. This week, Dr Zalasiewicz reported on the heartiness — and ambitiousness — of rats, explaining how our rapidly changing planet is soon going to be filled with gigantic, super-evolved rodents. And, like most things that go wrong around here, it’s all our fault.
As we humans directly or indirectly contribute to the extinction of other species, voids are left in the world’s emptying ecospace. Nature abhors a vacuum, though, and rats are the perfect species to fill those gaps. They’ve survived in just about every environment they’ve ever been introduced to — riding humans’ coattails, usually — and have proven incredibly hard to eradicate. In fact, in some cases, rats are the reason other species are dying off.
But if you’re imagining cities populated by tiny rodents, don’t. Instead, imagine cities populated by giant, crazy rats. Dr Zalasiewicz explains that since rats have been introduced to nearly every existing island on earth, they’re going to evolve rapidly, in wildly different directions:
Each island that rats are now present on is in effect a laboratory of future evolution — and each will produce different results.
So there will be future thin rats, future fat rats, slow and heavy rats, fast and ferocious rats, probably future aquatic rats — the list goes on.
Thanks to gigantism, some of these lines could reach the size of an adult human — roughly 80kg — and could eventually grow larger. Think The Princess Bride‘s Rodents of Unusual Size, except real, and strolling down the street After all, “the ancestors of today’s blue whale was a wolf-sized creature living close to shore”. The good news? That was 50 million years ago, so don’t panic yet.
Zalasiewicz drives home his point, awesomely, with a quote UB40’s 1986 hit single: ‘There’s a rat in my kitchen what am I going to do?” His answer? Get used to it. [University of Leicester]