This article is from the Mar./Apr. 1991 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Sheryl Leisure, Upland. CA
I was so excited when I got Tinker, my blue hooded rat [see Article on Blue Rats]. Not only because she was a rare and beautiful color and a nice pet, but now I had a legitimate reason to breed rats instead of just because I wanted to have them around. I could hardly wait until she gained some size and weight and became old enough to be bred.
I gathered her up in her travel cage after making arrangements with Karen for the stud and headed off to her house. We weren’t sure just who to breed her to. Every color looked so brown compared to her. We finally decided on a Silver Lilac male. Tinker looked so shy and a little nervous as we introduced her to him. I was leaving my little girl only to pick her up next week, a woman.
After spending a whole week without her I returned to see her gleaming with that motherhood glow. I could tell right away that she was with children. As soon as she returned to her cage she began shuffling things back and forth here and there until she got it just right, only to start all over again ten minutes later. Everything that we gave her for nesting material was immediately shredded and set up in her box. Now we just had to wait.
Being a small rat to begin with, Tinker kept her pregnancy a secret to most. It was not until her last few days that you could really tell. It looked like she was carrying a tennis ball under her coat! She moved a little slower, but ate a lot faster. She went through a whole tube of water every day and I spiked it with vitamins just to be sure her health stayed up.
On the day that she was due (10-18-90), I couldn’t stay home all day. I was in and out, but when I returned home at two in the afternoon, the job was done and there were lots of squirming little red bodies under her. I was disappointed having missed the birth, but I hadn’t missed it by much. She cleaned up the evidence and settled in to feed her brood. I was too nervous to stick my hand in there to see how many she had so I just left her alone until the next day.
When I could keep her distracted enough, I counted the little guys and checked for any problems. There were nine of them and they all looked great to me (although somewhat like little stumpy earthworms with legs). Tinker was a very protective mother and was constantly taking them out of my hand to return them to the nest. One time, after she had taken all of the babies out of my hand, she came back and tried to pull my hand into the nest. It smelled like one of the babies to her!
Within three days the babies’ skin changed and the pigment began to show. I could now see that there were going to be three solid black and six hooded babies. I had hoped for some blue babies, but they all turned out black. They were making a lot of noise and were very demanding of their mother. I could just see her looking up at me with that “How could you do this to me?” look. It was very interesting to me how many of the instincts that a rat has are bom in them. For example, the babies didn’t even have any hair yet but they already wiped their faces with their paws and brought them to their mouths as though they were washing. They were also quite mobile for being blind. There was a constant struggle to see who got to be at the bottom of the pile.
Being a new mom was very trying for Tinker. She some how thought it was necessary for her to move the babies to a new location every night. I would wake up in the morning only to find all of the shavings piled on one side of the cage with the babies at the very bottom of the pile. I assured myself that they could breathe because the air was trapped in between all of the shavings and just let her do it.
As though some alarm clock that only rats can hear had rung, on exactly the 14th day, they opened their eyes. They had such cute little pug noses and silky short fur, it seemed like forever until they finally got to take a look at the world.Cautiously they ventured out of the nest for a trip around the tank. Mother seemed to be on guard all of the time to race over and pull the baby, by the closest part she could sink her teeth into, (with love, of course) back to the safety of the nest. This sometimes resulted in a squeak of protest by the baby, but mom was pretty firm about it.
This was when the real fun began. The babies gained more and more courage and got to be too much for mom to control. They began to do what I call “Popcorning” which is when one baby jumps and then all of them jump and they excitedly jump and run until it resembles popcorn popping in the cage. What fun to watch! As a matter of fact, my husband and I found ourselves pulling up a chair to watch the rats instead of watching TV in the evenings. The babies were so curious about anything new that was placed in their cage. There were paper towel rolls, soup cans, egg cartons and Kleenex boxes. Each of these items was received with a flurry of excitement by the rats. Life and everything in it was a game to be enjoyed by them. If you ever find the need to prove to anyone how cute and cuddly a rat can be, three weeks old is the optimum time.
The most hilarious incidents occurred when we put the wheel in the cage for the First time. Watching nine little bodies scramble to sniff and crawl over this moving object gave us hours of delight. There were the “outside runners” who stand on their hind legs and run with their front legs on the outside of the wheel. Then there were the “cling-ons” who would be on the inside with several others and just hold on while the others turned the wheel around. I’m sure that they enjoyed this because they kept doing it over and over again. The most daring act was to cling on to the outside of the wheel while it was being run in by several others. We finally raised the wheel so that the baby could go all of the way through instead of skidding it’s back on the bottom of the cage.
Six weeks came and went too quickly and before I knew it I had to give up the babies to their new homes. They had gotten their more pronounced profiles and had grown up so fast! Now they were ready for more and better adventures. I was going to miss them terribly and though he doesn’t like to admit it, I know my husband misses the revelry too. Tinker appeared relieved to have her tank to herself again. She is now retired from motherhood but her daughters and sons are doing a beautiful job of giving us more blue rats. That with the discovery of another male and two more females in December has assured us that the blue color doesn’t depend entirely on Tinker. I think she has deserved her day of rest.