From domesticated to street, rats are unique creatures

It's a sight New Yorkers see all the time: rats scurrying past us on the street or dragging full slices of pizza down subway stairs.

We share our space with the rodents, but how well do you know them?

Rats are a little more interesting, hate them or love them.

“I saw him specifically and I was like that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen," said Ella Hilsenrath of the Upper West Side. "I thought he looked like a little woodland creature.”

Hilsenrath is one of the few people I know who happen to love rats. She has six of them all rescued from Mainly Rat Rescue. The organization finds domesticated rats that were rescued from labs, dumped on the streets or feeders for snakes. 

“They’re so funny and affectionate, some people train them to do tricks and things. For them to be prey animals and want attention and love so easily, it's really unique.”

But her rats are different than street rats.  

Matthew Combs, who earned his Ph.D. studying rats and their ecology in the City, says domestic rats were bred that way. 

“The pet rats are domesticated," said Combs. "They are often inbred and bred for good personality traits, whereas the rats here are more wild in their behavior and I wouldn’t want to go pick one up and turn it into a pet.”

Rats don't just have different personalities. Combs found that they have different genetics based on where they live.

An uptown rat is different from a downtown rat.

"Midtown tends to be a lower quality rat habitat and that tends to be sort of a barrier between downtown rats and rats that live in the uptown area. They’ve ended being isolated into different subset populations in the city," said Combs.

And, contrary to popular belief, streets rats cannot grow to be as large as a cat.

The biggest rat found in New York City was 1.5 lbs., said Combs.