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The Black Plague Was Probably Caused By Cute Gerbils, Not Dirty Rats

Illustration for article titled The Black Plague Was Probably Caused By Cute Gerbils, Not Dirty Rats

Conventional wisdom has it that the Black Death was spread throughout Europe by nasty, evil dirty, disease-carrying rats. Well, prepare to have your mind blown (and find a new pet): according to a new study, gerbils are more likely to blame.

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The Black Death — a mid-14th century epidemic of the bubonic plague that killed a significant proportion of the European population and had a lasting effect on modern civilization — has long been blamed on rats. They jumped on ships and carried disease-ridden fleas around the continent, which then jumped on humans and transmitted the plague — or so the story goes.

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, gerbils — specifically, scary-as-fuck sounding giant gerbils — are more likely to have been the cause. Scientists studied tree rings from Europe to determine historical weather patterns, and then cross-referenced that information with historical records of plague outbreaks.

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They found that plague outbreaks correlated positively with warmer, wetter weather in Asia, but not Europe — meaning that plague was mostly likely incubated in Asia, and then carried over the Silk Road into Europe, via gerbils. So next time you think a gerbil would make a fun pet for your seven-year-old, remember: it's got the blood of 200 million Europeans on its cute little paws. [BBC]

Image credit: Shutterstock/Jearu

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DISCUSSION

Having raised both I can say that rats spent much more time cleaning and are faster to show dismay at a soiled cage.

Rats also are faster to take to human interaction and less likely to become hand shy after extended bouts of less handling.

Wild rats are insanely athletic compared to lab rats(from back flips to accurate long jumps to anti gravity sleeping wedged into a right angled glass corner).

But dammit if gerbils little puffed tail tips aren't adorable..