Need Fresh Nightmare Fuel? Meet the Rat King.

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
April 16 2014 12:00 PM

The Rat King: So Much Worse Than it Sounds

rattenkonig
A Friedrich Wilhelm Schmuck drawing of a rat king, circa 1683.

Image: Public domain

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase "rat king"? Perhaps a sniffy-nosed rodent scampering about in a crown? Or maybe a ballet dancer in a rat costume, a la the Mouse King in Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker? Well, take those innocent visions, dash them, and report to Room 101. There, in your bespoke face-cage, you will meet the real rat king.

A rat king, or roi-de-rats if you want to get all classy and French about it, is a pack of rodents whose tails have become entwined. The adhesive for this rat tangle may be dirt, blood, or feces, or the tails may simply be knotted together. The number of rats in a rat king varies wildly — two rats can make a rat king, albeit a pretty pathetic one.

Advertisement

Reported rat king sightings date back to at last as far as the 16th century. Germany is a particular hotspot, for reasons unknown. The largest known specimen is a mummified 32-rat snarl, on display at the Mauritianum museum in Altenburg, Germany.

Behold the monstrous majesty: 

There are also rat kings on show at France's Natural History Museum in Nantes (nine rats), the Zoological Museum of Tartu, Estonia (16 rats), and the Zoological Museum of Strasbourg (10 rats).

The big question in all this is whether rat kings can form without human intervention. Certainly a portion of the "found" specimens are best consigned to the category of Cryptozoology along with the Feejee Mermaid and the Skunk Ape. But did any of the rodents become entangled of their own accord? Are there real rat kings? The answer is a definite maybe. Sweet dreams.

nantes_1
The Nantes rat king.

Photo: Selbymay/Creative Commons

Other creatures to make you squirm:

Ella Morton is a writer working on The Atlas Obscura, a book about global wonders, curiosities, and esoterica adapted from Atlas Obscura. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

How Movies Like Contagion and Outbreak Distort Our Response to Real Epidemics

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse

An Unscientific Ranking of Really, Really Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Oct. 23 2014 10:30 AM Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 8:51 AM The Male-Dominated Culture of Business in Tech Is Not Great for Women
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 9:00 AM Exclusive Premiere: Key & Peele Imagines the Dark Side of the Make-A-Wish Program
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.