good site!

An interview I wanted to do for today’s newsletter hasn’t come through and might never, so today I want to introduce you to ratbehavior.org, which I love. Officially titled “Rat Behavior and Biology (Anne’s rat page),” ratbehavior.org is now my favorite place to learn about what’s up with rats.

“Welcome to my website about rats,” Anne writes. “I have written a number of articles about rat behavior and biology. These articles are based on my study of the scientific literature available on rats and on my own observations of rat behavior.” According to its footer, the website was lasted updated around 2004.

There is a LOT of rat information on this website, which I truly love. It’s fun to see someone who runs not just an “account” or a “profile” or a “channel” related to their passion, but a whole website encompassing the many different facets of being super into rats.

There is, for example, a whole page on rat behavior culled from the experience of Anne’s three rats, Snip, Cricket, and Widget.

We learn a little bit about this history of these rats, who are probably dead now.

During this first year, Widget bit Snip twice: at age 4.5 months he bit Snip on the rump, and at age 7 months he bit Snip on the side of the belly. Both wounds healed uneventfully. I noticed that these bites tended to occur when Snip was cornered and could not escape Widget (e.g. inside a nestbox, corner of a high shelf). I responded by eliminating places where a rat could get cornered: I cut four holes in each nestbox so a rat inside could escape from any angle, and I slung a hammock below the high shelf so a cornered rat could always jump down to safety. Widget continued to chase Snip, but Snip was rarely cornered again.

I love the breadth of this website. The page on how Norwegian rats behave is so long. It reveals a whole sphere of early-web rat pages, like this collection of rat yawns and RatRaisins, Inc.

Another feature I really love is the Rat Cam. How might a rat see the world from their perspective? RatBehavior.org has effectively simulated this for us using a series of 320x240 video clips that are just a camera moving along the ground. It’s really committed to putting us in the rat’s (tiny) shoes.

Look at how granular this FAQ is. This person has spent so much time thinking about rats. “Why do my rat's eyes bulge in and out?” “Why do my rat's whiskers twitch back and forth?” “Why does my female rat freeze and arch her back?” “Why does my female rat vibrate her ears really fast?” “Why does my rat wag its tail?” “Why does my rat sway from side to side?” “Why does my rat carry its tail in its mouth?”

It gets even more specific from there.

The answer to that last question is “No.”

Lest you think that ratbehavior.org is only committed to the academic side of rat life, there’s a cute section of humor pieces as well, such as a “Rat-English Dictionary” (lots of “eeee” sounds) and a catalog of “Courses from Rat University.” There’s a quiz, Rat or Mouse?, that I scored 11/12 on. (The one I missed was the picture where I could only see the animal’s head, whereas I was evaluating based mostly on body type.)

I also love the gallery of rat art. Very Jackson Pollock.

I could go on. I spent about an hour casually browsing ratbehavior.org, aimlessly following hyperlinks and getting lost in its many extensive pages. Maybe it can be a nice diversion for you too. It’s rare that one gets to do this anymore. The websites we spend time on now are sprawling and dynamic, feeds that are constantly updating and changing and giving us new information. In contrast, ratbehavior.org feels like combing through the ruins of an ancient city, fascinating in the wealth of artifacts it houses but also with the knowledge that its form and contents will never change.

Ratbehavior.org is a comprehensive monument to, duh, rat behavior and it’s the type of thing that brings into even further relief how ephemeral the internet seems now. It doesn’t havea clear chronological arc. I have no idea which things were added and when — and unlike a blog, the sequence doesn’t even really matter. Did the rat art get added after the section on whether you should pee on your rat? Who cares?

To use another lazy architecture metaphor, every part of this site feels like a carefully placed brick, as supposed to, I dunno, a pebble tossed into a stream. I can’t stop thinking about it — making a really big, unwieldy, haphazard website that will eventually end and then stay the same forever afterward. Maybe one day I’ll do it, after I teach my dog to paint.


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