Cat-rat Hybrids?

Hybrids out of History



We find means to make commixtures and copulations of divers kinds, which have produced many new kinds, and them not barren, as the general opinion is.
—Francis Bacon, New Atlantis (1627)
John Locke John Locke

Rattus rattus Black Rat (Rattus rattus)
Credit: Liftarn (Wikipedia)

Note: It has been my policy in listing reports of mammalian hybrids to include all serious allegations by serious individuals, especially scholars, whether or not the hybrid alleged seems possible or likely to me. This policy, I think, helps to eliminate subjective judgment on my part, and therefore should eliminate at least one source of systematic bias from my work.

John Locke (1632-1704), the English philosopher, is regarded as one of the most influential thinkers of the Enlightenment. Thomas Jefferson, for example, placed him on the highest rung of genius: “Bacon, Locke and Newton... I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception” (letter to Richard Price Paris, Jan. 8, 1789). Through Jefferson, Locke’s ideas shaped the Declaration of Independence.

What are we to think then when an individual with such a forbidding intellect claims to have seen a cat-rat hybrid? In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (III, Ch. 6, 23), Locke gives the following brief, but eyewitness, report:

I once saw a creature that was the issue of a cat and a rat, and had the plain marks of both about it; wherein nature appeared to have followed the pattern of neither sort alone, but to have jumbled them both together.

If in making this claim Locke was correct, the sire in the cross would almost certainly have been a black rat (Rattus rattus), since at that time the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) had not as yet reached Britain.

In the next century, the French naturalist Jacques-François Dicquemare (1733-1789) refers to what is probably the same case (Dicquemare 1778, p. 213):

cat-rat hybrid Ad about a sideshow supposedly featuring a cat-rat hybrid from page 3, column 7, of the April 26, 1933, issue of the National Advocate, an Australian newspaper published in Bathurst, New South Wales (source).
The female cat covered, in London, by a big rat, gave birth to young, which resembled both cat and rat, and were raised in the menagerie of the English king. Translated by E.M. McCarthy. Original French: “La chatte couvert, à Londres, par un gros rat, donna des petits qui tenoient du chat & du rat, & qu’on élève dans la Ménagerie du Roi d’Angleterre.”

Is such a thing possible? The easy answer is “No.” But an honest one is that we simply know very little about the factors governing the ability of such disparate animals to hybridize. There is enough evidence that cats hybridize with rabbits that many people are convinced a cross between cat and rabbit can in fact occur, which is a rather similar cross to the one under consideration here.

Moreover, recent reports from South Africa allege the existence of numerous cat-rat hybrids found inside the wall of a family home in Rustenburg. Four of these creatures were killed, but two were captured and taken away alive by the local SPCA. Efforts are being made to obtain more information about this case.

cat-rat hybrids Three of the alleged cat-rat hybrids found in in a house in Lethabong, Rustenburg, in north-western South Africa in early 2017. As is often the case with strange hybrids, these animals were killed by individuals who were shocked at their appearance.

So who knows? Perhaps a rat gamete and a cat gamete can on rare occasions combine and sort things out sufficiently to produce a viable organism. But any definite conclusions on this point will have to await firmer evidence. In the meantime, it can only be said that the evidence supporting this cross is meager indeed (as indicated by the reality thermometer at right).

And then there’s the question of whether a rat is physically capable of covering a cat. Certainly, it’s true that rats and cats raised together get along well, and can even be snuggly friends, as can be seen in various YouTube videos.

Indeed, as surprising as it may seem, it’s known that tame cats will on occasion nurse baby rats (as shown in the video below), a significant fact in the present context; most mammals (and birds) imprint on the type of animal that raises them, that is, when they reach sexual maturity, they will choose to mate with that kind of animal even if that kind is not their own (read a discussion of imprinting elsewhere on this website).

Video: Cat nursing rat.

Accounts of such behavior seem to be nothing unusual in the older literature. In closing, I'll quote one such case here (from Bingley 1820, pp. 247-248):

Some years ago a sympathy of this nature took place in the house of Mr. James Greenfield of Maryland, betwixt a Cat and a Rat. The Cat had kittens, to which she frequently carried Mice and other small animals for food; and among the rest she is supposed to have carried to them a young Rat. The kittens probably not being hungry played with it, and when the Cat gave suck to them, the Rat likewise sucked her. This having been observed by some of the servants, Mr. Greenfield was informed of it. He had the kittens and Rat brought downstairs and put on the floor; and in carrying them off the Cat was remarked to convey away the young Rat as tenderly as she did any of the kittens. This experiment was repeated as often as any company came to the house, till a great number of persons had become eye-witnesses of the extraordinary affection.

Indeed, a wide variety of animals will adopt those of other animals. Such is especially the case when the mother animal has recently lost her young. These bereft females, in whom maternal hormones are still coursing, have been known to seize upon the most unlikely foundlings. Speaking of one such case, Armen (1974, p. 53) comments that

It would be quite understandable that a compensatory instinct should then have come into play, just as hens which have lost their chicks sometimes rear ducks, or women without children of their own devote themselves to other people’s or surround themselves with cats.

Another case, of a rather ambiguous nature, is described at the bottom of column 4 of the front page of the May 20, 1886, issue of the Democratic Northwest, a newspaper published in Napoleon, Ohio (source):

    A surprising freak of nature is reported in this city [i.e., Youngstown, Ohio]. Three nights ago a cat is reported to have given birth to two kittens and one rat. Certain it is that when the kittens were found, a young rat, which looked as though it had been but recently born, was with them. The cat is a careful of the rat as she is of the kittens. Experiments have been made by taking the rat away and leaving it on the ground a distance from the litter. The cat will instantly bring it back. The little rodent is nourished in the same way as the kittens, and flourishes on the diet. The novelty has been witnessed by many people.—Youngstown Vindicator

Perhaps this cat-suckled rat was merely adopted, as were the other young rats described above. However, it is at least conceivable that this cat actually did give birth to a rat. If so, this report would fall into the same category as certain other reports, quoted elsewhere on this site, in which one kind of animal supposedly gave birth to offspring of a different kind.

A related cross >>

A list of cat crosses

The following is a list of reported cat crosses. Some of these crosses are much better documented than others (as indicated by the reliability arrow). Indeed, some might seem completely impossible. But all have been reported at least once. The links below are to separate articles. Additional crosses, not listed here, are covered on the cat hybrids page.

dog-cow hybrid A dog-cow hybrid?
reliability arrow

Cat × Wildcat >>

Lion × Tiger >>

Jaguar × Lion >>

Leopard × Lion >>

Jaguar × Leopard >>

Cat × Pallas’s Cat >>

Cat × Rabbit (Cabbits) >>

Cat × Marten >>

Leopard × Tiger >>

Cat × Dog >>

Cat × Raccoon >>

Cat × Opossum >>

Cat × Human >>

Cat × Rat >>

Cat × Squirrel >>

Cat × Duck >>

Cat × Chicken >>

Cat × Horse >>

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