King of Rats

Quite a creepy tale, this phenomenon first appeared in the 16th century. Young rats or mice, that lived crowded together, got tangled up with each other and as they grew older and their tails hardened they inevitably became linked together forever. The knot grew and movement became difficult. Only the strongest survived and as the other ones died, they were dragged along. When only few animals were left and unable to handle the weight they were tied to, they were fed by other animals of the group until they too, perished.

Illustration: Karolin Schnoor (

Illustration: Karolin Schnoor (

 Scared by this unusual sight, people thought it a bad omen, a forebearer of diseases and worsening conditions for everyone. Often the clusters of rats or  mice were killed straight away to keep the evil away but once conditions were bad enough for a king of rats to come about in the first place, it was usually too late.
This rather unroyal phenomenon was titled “rat king” because people falsely assumed that any rat, able to collect and drag with him such a mass of other animals must be the leader of the group and was using the others to form a sort of live throne for him to sit on top of. In truth, most of the rats knotted up in each other died in equally painful ways and made life only harder for the strong survivers. The biggest “rat-king” ever recorded was made up of 32 bodies and was found in 1828 in Thuringia, Germany. 

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