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.

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.

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]

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