Many people have a very real fear of rats. Whether you’ve ever seen one in person or not, you’re probably grossed out by the idea of a hairy little monster running around and nibbling on everything that you hold precious. But what if we told you that right now there’s a mass of rats tied together by their tails crawling underground and looking for anything they can use to survive? That’s right, we’re talking about rat kings.

Maybe you’ve hit up the rat king Wikipedia, but what can you really learn there? We’re here to answer your most pertinent rat king questions, like “Where do rat kings live?” And are there rat kings in New York? Answers: Under your bathroom, and yes yes yes. Keep reading to learn everything there is to know about rat kings, from where the concept originated to where the next rat king is probably going to rear its many heads.

So what are rat kings, other than a nightmarish abomination created to haunt your dreams? A rat king occurs when you have a mass of rodents whose tails become stuck together either by a strong adhesive or by becoming so knotted that the animals can’t escape. Once the rats are knotted together they begin to try to furiously escape and a rat king is born.

Have you ever seen a rat king? If so how did you handle it? Did you run away in terror, or are you now the proud owner of an embalmed rat king sculpture? Tell us about it in the comments.

Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Largest Rat King On Record Is 32 Rats Total

It’s safe to assume that rat kings are incredibly gross to look at, and the largest rat king on display doesn’t let viewers down. It’s displayed in the Mauritianum Museum in Altenburg, Germany and it has 32 individual rats stuck together. There’s obviously a lot of debate as to whether this rat king is real. And even if it was tied together post-mortem, it’s still a monument to man’s ability to not get super grossed out by touching a pile of dead rats. So next time you’re in Germany, don’t forget to go look at a nasty pile of rats!

Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The Name Comes From A Myth

The very idea of the Rat King (or King Rat) comes from the myth that out of all the rats in a pile of rats, there’s one wise rat who sits on the rest of the rats and rides on top like some kind of rodent Rick Ross. Nothing sounds more mythological than a rat that rides other rats, but it’s also kind of silly. It’s surprising that 16th-century villagers didn’t laugh whoever came up with the idea out of Europe.

Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The Idea Of Rat Kings Originated In Eastern Europe

Even though rat kings are well-tread territory for most of the Western world, the idea of the rat king got its start in Eastern Europe, most likely in Germany. At the time, the country was overrun with vermin and the plague was in full effect, and with roving gangs of rats crawling through the countryside, a few of them were bound to get tied up together. Rat kings could probably only happen in Eastern Europe because it’s the only part of the country that could support rodents. Once you move even further to the east it gets really cold, thus destroying the possibility of large swarms of rats taking over towns willy-nilly.

There Might Be A Lot Of Rat Kings

The guys over at Lazer Horse bring up an interesting point when saying that “rat king sightings are rare, but they’re perhaps not such a rare occurrence. After all, the rat kings humans get to see are the chance sightings when they are only partially buried.” Meaning that most rat kings likely occur deep underground where we’re not likely to find them. That means that right now, there could be thousands of rat kings below your city and you don’t even know it.

Rat Kings Aren’t Conjoined Twins

One of the common misconceptions about rat kings is that they’re actually made up of conjoined twins. This idea probably comes from the folkloric concept that rat kings share a hive mind, but as Boing Boing points out, rat kings only grow together after birth, not before. Although it’s not out of the question for people from the Middle Ages to believe that rats formed together in the womb and hatched into surprise nightmares. That certainly adds to the spooky concept, but it’s, unfortunately, another myth that falls apart the moment logic is applied.

A Rat King In Estonia Was Caused By Frozen Sand

One researcher in Estonia decided to get down to the nitty-gritty and see why all of these rats were sticking together, and it turns out that a bunch of things need to happen in order for there be a true rat king. The researcher believes that the rats have to be huddled together in the cold, on sandy ground, and blood, mud or a different sticky substance needs to be involved for the rats to actually form a king. Whatever the bonding agent was, it would have to act quickly as rats aren’t known for sitting in one place for very long. As much sense as this paper makes, it’s still a scenario that only survives under the “best” circumstances.

Some Say Rat Kings May Not Be Physically Possible

This is bad news on par with there not being a real Santa Claus, but it might not be possible for rats to get their tails tangled up into a bunch of knots because their tails are actually filled with bones, or as one Redditor succinctly states, “[they’re not] spaghetti noodles.” Well said, sir. Even if their tails are somewhat prehensile, thus negating the possibility of tails being woven together like that mass of old phone chargers in your closet, we’ve learned that they can get stuck together by naturally occurring adhesives like pine sap or blood.

There Hasn’t Been A Rat King Since 2005

That we know of. According to a Yahoo! News post, the last recorded sighting of a rat king was in the Võrumaa region of Estonia in 2005. Given that rat kings originated in Eastern Europe, it’s not a huge surprise that another one would be found in the region, but it does give pause to those of us who worry about a second coming of the bubonic plague. And if you’re worried that rat kings are only popping up in places that you’ve never heard of, cheer up, there might be piles of rats running around underneath your city right now!

Photo: Janae N. Corrado / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Rat Kings Might Be Newborn Rats

Because some rats produce a litter of eight to twelve babies and breed as often as every two or three months, it’s possible that rat kings are actually made up of younglings whose tails haven’t fully developed yet. Maybe all of their squirming manages to knot all of their tails together, ensuring that they grow into a being that lives in your nightmares. Keep in mind that this is just a theory, so don’t go around trying to tie baby rat tails together (Even if that is how rat kings are formed, don’t do that anyway).

Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Rat Kings May Have Died Out With Black Rats

One of the biggest possibilities for the non-existence of rat kings is the rats that were running around in the Middle Ages and getting all stuck together were black rats, which had a longer tail than modern brown rats and ended up displacing the black rats, thus putting an end to the Black Plague and the constant rat kings that were apparently all over 16th-century Germany.

 

Rat Kings Are Probably Formed Post-Mortem

Sorry to rain on your rat parade, but it’s more than likely that rat kings aren’t actually rat kings until they’re dead. Most modern rat kings on display have been knotted and glued together by schisters and taxidermists trying to snag a buck from gullible lovers of the grotesque. One rat king on display at the Otago Museum in Dunedin was actually tied together with horse hair and dried in horse manure (to make it more authentic?). That being said, they’re still very cool.

Photo: National Park Service / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Rat Kings Probably Don’t Survive For Long

The sad truth of the rat king is that even if a pile of rats do get their tails stuck together by pine sap or blood or whatever, the rats probably don’t live long enough to roam the streets at night, stealing babies out of bassinets while their parents sleep in the next room. The rats either chew their own tails off or they starve to death because of their inability to move in one direction.

Rat Kings Are A Bad Omen

If you end up traveling back in time to the 16th century and see a rat king, run. Most ancient rat king sightings run parallel to swaths of deaths or famine, so it’s no wonder that they were seen as a bad omen. Also, it’s a pile of rats and no one’s ever said, “Oh good, it’s a pile of rats.” It’s most likely that all of those rats brought the plague along with them, cementing their status as bad omen numero uno.

Seattle Might Be The Next Rat King Capital Of The World

It turns out that Seattle might be the destination spot for those of you looking for a nest of intertwined rats. In a report from The Seattle Timesthere have been 28,600 rat sightings in homes as of 2013. Is Seattle made of cheese? Or does the Pacific Northwest contain the perfect confluence of chilly weather and underground tunnels where rodents can survive?

You’re As Likely To Find A Rat King As You Are A Bigfoot

Because rat kings are so rare (and probably fake), they’ve entered into the realm of cryptozoology. What does that mean for your hopes of seeing a rat king clawing its way through your town? Well, you might as well start trying to find a chupacabra and the Mothman while you’re trolling for a sentient pile of rats. Even with their folkloric status, rat kings are more likely to pop up than your run-of-the-mill Yeti. But if you hear of a rat king eating a wedge of cheese and watching teenagers make out, be wary of your source.

Photo: manthatcooks / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

Rat King Art Is Happening In A Big Way

Rat Kings have so pervaded modern culture that even contemporary artists like Katharina Fritsch are putting them in their work. Does this mean that rat kings are the new mustaches? (Spoiler alert: yes.)

Photo: mollygolightly / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Taxidermists Are Finally Making Rat Kings

In a Vice interview with Nicola Jayne Hebson, a vegan taxidermist, she discusses building a seven-piece rat king with a large piece of crystal right in the middle. If you’re looking for a gift for your Millennial niece, this just might be it. While it’s true that taxidermists have probably been making rat kings since they first appeared in the Middle Ages, it’s interesting that this is the first case of someone coming forward and discussing their technique. Also, Hebson’s rat king seems so much more clean than the rat kings on display across the world. Does that mean that the rat kings of Germany were real? Or is it simply a case of aesthetics?

Photo: Jlhopgood / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

In The Middle Ages, Farmers Believed Rat Kings Had A Single Mind

One of the mythological aspects of the rat king actually comes from the Middle Ages, when farmers would find rat kings with a calloused and knotted tail, suggesting that they had survived for long periods of time. Unsure of how they could do so without starving to death, farmers came up with the concept of the “King Rat” who somehow linked the minds of the lesser rats and made them do his bidding. We now know this isn’t true, but it’s pretty cool to think about.

‘Rat King’ Used To Be Slang For ‘Sneaky, Disingenuous Person’

Before rat king meant “nightmarish pile of screeching rodents out for blood,” it was what you called someone who you considered to be a lecherous human being. The original term was actually rattenkönig, which translates roughly to “king rat.” Martin Luther actually popularized the saying while speaking about the Catholic Church. Part of his speech read, “…finally, there is the Pope, the king of rats right at the top.” But then it became real? UGH!

Photo: Jlhopgood / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

Rat Kings Have A Classy French Name

Everything sounds better in French, even a messy pile of disease-riddled rats! The “roi-de-rats” is a much better name for rat kings even if it sounds like a plumber who lives in East Orange, NJ named Roy DeRatz.

There’s A Squirrel King

Video: YouTube

Just when you thought that you’d never run afoul of a group of rodents stuck together, hungrily rampaging through the city, a squirrel king appeared in Regina, Saskatchewan, and had to be separated by a team of veterinarians. The squirrels were stuck together with pine sap, but luckily no one’s tail had to be amputated.