Monday, July 16, 2012


Back in 1984, E. O. Wilson penned a neat little book called Biophilia, in which he suggested that humans have an inborn, genetically determined affinity with other creatures. It's been a long time since I read the book, and I don't have access to a copy here. I can only examine my own feelings to gauge the veracity of Wilson's claim.

I am happy to lie down with the lamb. I wouldn't lie down with a lion, but I do find the idea of going on safari to shoot a lion abhorrent. I pick up non-venomous snakes without fear, but steer clear of rattlesnakes and copperheads.

Spiders? No problem. I tend a few "daddy-long-legs" here under the shelf above my desk. They are good company.

Mice? I wouldn't mind living with a few if my wife didn't object. I feel pangs of conscience when I see those lifeless astonished eyes looking up from the sprung trap.

But rats? I draw the line at rats. Not a smidgen of biophilia. They give me the creeps.

We have rats. Brown rats, otherwise known as Norway rats, Rattus norvegicus

My wife has bird feeders outside the window. She polishes her biophilia on coal tits, great tits, and (European) robins. The birds scatter seed onto the ground under the feeders. And the rats come scavenging.

Mother rat. Father rat. Baby rats. Fattening themselves on bird seed. My wife is running a regular soup kitchen for rats. The Biophilia Café. A Norwegian smorgasbord.

No way, Jose. I spoon out the poison. I cock the traps. It's me against Ed Wilson. Me against the rats. No love lost. Biophilia be damned.

After humans, brown rats have been the most successful mammal at colonizing the world. Wherever humans have gone, brown rats have followed. Commensal, they call it. Eating at the same table. The brown rat, surely has an inborn, genetically-determined case of homophilia.

The feeling is not mutual. Norman Hickin, in his book Irish Nature, says, "Perhaps of all mammals, the brown rat is loved least. Indeed, it is looked upon by most people, if not with horror, at least with disgust." Whether that disgust is innate, I will leave for Ed Wilson to decide.