Rodentia – Rodents

They came early, expanded exponentially, and spread spectacularly

Rodents stand out in the animal kingdom due to their incredible diversity and adaptability, comprising a staggering 40% of all mammalian species. These creatures are characterized by a pair of continuously growing incisors in both the upper and lower jaws, which they must constantly gnaw to keep at a manageable size. From the urban-dwelling rat, known for its cunning survival skills, to the industrious beaver, whose dam-building activities are a marvel of natural engineering, and the endearing hamster, often chosen as a first pet for children, rodents are a ubiquitous presence in various ecosystems around the globe.

But don’t be misled into lumping rabbits and hares with this group; although they share some similarities with rodents, they belong to a different order altogether, the Lagomorpha. Despite this common misconception, rodents are distinct in their dental anatomy and various other biological traits.

Rodents often bear the brunt of human disdain, mainly due to their association with numerous infectious diseases and infestations. The history of rodents as vectors of devastating plagues is well-documented, and their capacity to host lice and other parasites has made them unwelcome guests in many human habitations. Yet, it’s essential to recognize the pivotal role these small but mighty creatures play in the web of life. Their presence in the food chain is significant; they are a source of sustenance for a variety of predators and contribute to the health of ecosystems through their activities, which include seed dispersal and soil aeration.

The ingenuity of rodents in navigating human-made environments is something many of us are familiar with. The common house mouse is a prime example of their adaptability, often finding its way into homes through gaps no wider than a pencil. These tiny but resourceful explorers are adept at exploiting the smallest of opportunities to secure shelter and food.

While it is easy to focus on the less endearing qualities of rodents, it is worth considering their role in scientific research. As model organisms, they have contributed vastly to our understanding of genetics, disease, and the effects of pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, in some cultures, rodents are seen not as pests but as integral parts of their traditional lifestyles and ecosystems.