Bill Bryson’s horrific assertion of rats’ ingenuity

by Mr. Sheehy

Rats are smart and often work cooperatively. At the former Gansevoort poultry market in Greenwich Village, New York, pest control authorities could not understand how rats were stealing eggs without breaking them, so one night an exterminator sat in hiding to watch. What he saw was that one rat would embrace an egg with all four legs, then roll over on his back. A second rat would then drag the first rat by its tail to their burrow, where they could share their prize in peace. In a similar manner workers at a packing plant discovered how sides of meat, hanging from hooks, were knocked to the floor and devoured night after night. An exterminator named Irving Billig watched and found that a swarm of rats formed a pyramid underneath a side of meat, and one rat scrambled to the top of the heap and leaped onto the meat from there. It then climbed to the top of the side of meat and gnawed its way through it around the hook until the meat dropped to the floor, at which point hundreds of waiting rats fell upon it. (242)

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A short history of private life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.