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Oct. 7, 1906: 'Vampire rats' terrorize Minneapolis chickens

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History, City streets Updated: December 7, 2012 - 7:02 PM
 
Perhaps an experienced exterminator can identify the blood-sucking, kangaroo-like rats described in this Minneapolis Tribune story.
 

COMPLAIN OF REIGN
OF VAMPIRE RATS

 

CHICKEN RAISERS WORRIED BY NEW SPECIES OF RODENT.
 
Has Appearance of Kangaroo and Attacks Ducks and Turkeys.
 
IMMUNE FROM POISON AND EVEN RESENTS THE APPEARANCE OF HUMANS.
 
Has Minneapolis been visited by a colony of vampire rats and are they propagating a new and foreign breed? are the questions which Minneapolis people are beginning to ask, and which many of them answer for themselves in the affirmative from experience.
 
The discovery that rats were acting very peculiarly, was first made by the chicken fanciers. There are more of this class of people in Minneapolis than in any other city of its size in the country and they breed more high priced fowl than any western city.
 
Poultrymen assert that while chicks are liable to be carried off by rats, when they get of a good broiler size, they are safe. But this season it is different. Rats not only have been killing full grown chicks during the night, but they have been seen to leap upon chickens in the daytime. Stephen Conlow, a North Minneapolis breeder, tells of these rats dragging down a full grown duck, and Mart E. Cressing, an East Side fancier, asserts that they even have seized his young turkeys.
 
FEED ON YOUNG TURKEYS.
 
“I heard a commotion one day in the yard,” he said, “and there was a young turkey thrashing about the yard with two rats hanging to its neck. I ran into the yard and drove them away and found that they had sunk their teeth into the back of the turkey’s neck and had been sucking the blood. The turkey was strong, but the wounds poisoned it, and swelled its head and I had to kill it. The worst of it is, these rats won’t be poisoned, for they refuse to eat raw meat or cheese that has been fixed for them.”
 
Several poultry fanciers are going out of the business entirely because they cannot fight these queer animals, which they say are too cunning for them. One man reports only a dozen chicks left to grow to maturity out of 233, all carried off by rats in spite of his precaution.
 
“I have never seen rats like them,” said one North Minneapolis fancier. “I have had rats that were easy to handle, but I never heard of this kind until Mrs. Turnbull, who lives near me, told of rats that killed grown chickens, roosters and hens. I couldn’t believe it, but she assured me that she had to shut hers up in barrels over night to protect them. Then finally they attacked my colony.
 
RAT THREW CHICKEN.
 
“One day I heard a flopping out in the yard, and saw a big broiler, one of my best chicks, flopping as if his neck had been run. I found that a rat had thrown it. I drove it away, and it retreated a short distance, and blinked at me. The struggles of the chick had ceased before I picked it up. I plucked it to find how it was injured and found teeth holes at each side of the back of the base of the neck. The rat had broken the spinal [cord] and sucked the blood until the chicken dropped from weakness. I have found many killed in the day time this year and all have the spinal [cord] broken.
 
“I want to tell another peculiar thing about these rats. I have watched them about the yard, and they are afraid of nothing. They will lay in wait for sparrows, as a cat does, and leap for them when they get near, and I have seen more than one caught by them. I can’t catch them nor poison them. They seem to disappear no one knows where, when they want to sleep.”
 
LOOK LIKE KANGAROOS.
 
People who have been troubled with them, say they are different from the ordinary rat. They are not as large, are rather lean and long, have tails, which are more than usually large at the base. Their ears are quite long, and their eyes piercing and large, and they run by a series of bounds, instead of the close travel of the ordinary rat.
 
Mr. Johnson, a fireman in the department, asserts that his experience with the rats are that when they get hungry they always prefer animal food to the extent of eating the family shoes when they can’t get meat. He says they don’t seem to care for bread and cheese, and poison they simply turn up their nose at.
 
“I have driven them from my place,” said one poultryman, speaking of the rat question. “They don’t seem to live in sewers. I take chopped liver and lay it in the center of a large board square, say four feet square. I sprinkle the board around it with potash. They come to get the nice juicy meat, and get the potash on their feet. It burns and they lick it off, and that kills. I advise every one to try it. After I did, my chickens were unmolested. Of course you have to put the potash where the chickens won’t get it.”
 
Rattus norvegicus -- known as Mus decumanus in the early 1900s -- also had a taste for poultry. (Image courtesy of Kurt Stueber)

 

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