Monday, August 26, 2013

The final chapter

Well, the Saga of the Rat has come to an end. And yet it's an ending that leaves us with more questions than answers.

Last night, around 5:30, Brian went out to the garden to pick some basil for dinner, and the first thing he noticed was that the cage he'd put up over the rat trap had been overturned. Oh great, he thought, a bird or something managed to tip over the cage. Then he noticed that the trap itself, still sitting where he'd left it, had been sprung—but there was nothing in it. Oh, even more great; did the rat somehow manage to spring the trap and flip over the cage? Or did something else do it? Looking around for the culprit, he glanced along the garden paths and spotted, about two feet away from the cage...a dead rat. Not mangled in any way, but clearly deceased. (Oh, and it was also apparent that the rat I've been referring to in this blog as "he" was actually a she. Brian didn't exactly examine the corpse carefully, but with rats, maleness is a pretty obvious trait.)

So the rat herself is now resting in peace in a corner of the yard (the websites say to dispose of the corpse in the trash, but with a week of August heat between us and our next trash pickup, we decided against that), but the questions remain. What tipped over the cage? How did the rat manage to trip the trap without being caught in it? And what, exactly, was the cause of death?

So far we've thought of two possibilities. In the first scenario, the rat enters the cage and perches on the front of the trap to nibble at the peanut butter. She springs the trap, which goes off—but instead of catching her in it, it throws her forward, hard enough to tip over the cage. The injured rat manages to drag herself some distance before expiring, while the trap falls neatly back into place exactly where it was. The problem with this idea is that when the trap is tripped with nothing in it, it tends to flip over, and that didn't happen in this case. Maybe if I worked out the physics I'd find that it's actually possible for the trap to have transferred all of its tipping-over momentum to the rat, but it seems peculiar.

The other possibility is that the rat sprung the trap but somehow managed to pull back fast enough to avoid being caught. Panicked, she bolts from the enclosure at top speed, not bothering to squeeze through the chicken wire—so as she runs, she pulls the cage over. This causes the rock we'd put on top of it to topple off, striking her right on the head. Suffering from a fatal head wound, she manages to stagger a few steps more before collapsing. Again, it sounds possible, but what are the odds?

We may never solve this mystery, but we have managed, at least for now, to solve our rat problem. The only possible cause for concern is the discovery that this rat was female, which means that she might conceivably have had a litter somewhere. So there's two ways that could turn out badly for us: if the little ratlings weren't big enough to survive on their own, they could die of starvation, leaving us with a bunch of rotting baby rat corpses in a spot that may not be easy to find. On the other hand, if they were big enough to survive on their own, then we may at some point find ourselves trying to deal with multiple rats in the garden instead of just one. Frankly, I'm not sure which scenario is worse. But there's nothing we can do about either one at this point, so I guess all we can do is hope that this rat left no descendants. Or at least, none on our property.
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