A Rat-human Hybrid?

Hybrids out of History



I am obliged to report that which is reported, but not to believe it.
—Herodotus, The History, VII, 152

Note: Any claim that hybrids can be produced from this highly disparate and very poorly documented cross would require confirmation.

In 1889 a report about a human-faced rat captured in a Houston suburb appeared in many U.S. newspapers. The following transcript of that article is taken from page 6, column 7, of the July 17, 1889, issue of The Abbeville Press and Banner, a newspaper published in Abbeville, South Carolina (source).

A Child-Faced Rat

    A singular freak of nature is on exhibition at the rooms of the Natural History Club, in Houston, Texas. It was brought in yesterday by a German family named Schweinfeldt, living in the suburbs of this city, who tell the following remarkable story in connection with the strange creature:
    A few months ago they were aroused one night by a shrill scream of pain from their year-old baby. Rushing to the cradle nothing was seen or heard, but the next morning, while bathing the child, the mother observed two red spots on the arm near the brachial artery, looking as if they had been punctured by a needle. The arm swelled a good deal and was still very sore. In about a week the baby was found dead in its cradle bathed in blood. The jugular vein had been bitten through.
    The physician who was called in, on seeing the small but fatal wound, which consisted of a hole the size of a darning needle might have made, and hearing the history of the swelled arm, immediately said that both bites had been inflicted by a rat.
    After the baby’s burial the Schweinfeldts naturally determined to rid their house of the dangerous rodents, and consequently traps of every fashion were placed about. Many were caught and drowned. One night, several months after the death of the baby, a rat was heard running about its narrow prison, and simultaneously the crying of a child was heard near by. The head of the family procuring a light, rushed to the place whence the cries seemed to come. To his astonishment it proceeded from the rat-trap, in which could be seen one of those animals.
    Taking up the trap he examined the rat closely and was further amazed to find that the creature’s face strongly resembled that of a human being, while yet it retained the characteristics of a rat. It cried piteously and so much like a hurt child as to be easily mistaken for one when out of sight.
    It is this rat which is now on exhibition at the Natural History Club’s rooms. Its eyes are somewhat larger and more human-looking and have more distinctive lids that are usual. The nose, however, is the most remarkable feature, being decidedly marked and prominent, with swelling nostrils. The mouth is small and has unmistakable lips, but the teeth are long, keen and rat-like. The feet show a slight resemblance to the human hand, although the nails are curved like claws.
    Dr. Pinning, President of the Natural History Club, and a noted naturalist, agrees with the Schweinfeldts in thinking this must be the offspring of the rat that killed the baby, and the phenomenon is due to her milk being formed from the child’s blood which she sucked.—Philadelphia Times.
Note: It has been my policy in listing reports of hybrids to include all serious allegations, especially those of 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 remove at least one source of systematic bias from my work. It also helps to fulfill the ethical obligation of telling not just the truth, but the whole truth.

Beyond the fact that this cross would be between distinct mammalian orders (Primates and Rodentia), further doubt is cast upon this report by the fact that a first name is given neither for Schweinfeldt nor Pinning. So neither of the persons mentioned in the report can be specifically identified. Nor can I find any mention of a Natural History Club in Houston at the time of the report. Also, there seems to be no mention of the “noted naturalist” “Dr. Pinning” outside the context of this report.

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By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).

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