"'The rat,' said O'Brien, still addressing his invisible audience, 'although a rodent, is carnivorous. You are aware of that. You will have heard of the things that happen in the poor quarters of this town. In some streets a woman dare not leave her baby alone in the house, even for five minutes. The rats are certain to attack it. Within quite a small time they will strip it to the bones. They also attack sick or dying people. They show astonishing intelligence in knowing when a human being is helpless.'"
Rodents are widely reviled, but not very threatening; after all, anyone can set a mousetrap. So how do writers make them a legitimate threat? By having a very, very large swarm
of them all at once! One rat isn't scary, but a huge wave of rats eating a victim alive, one bite at a time
Rats and mice are perfect for the "huge swarm" treatment, since, as any exterminator will tell you, they tend to breed a lot. And really fast
. Also, as omnivores, they can and will eat meat — sometimes even if said meat is still alive — and rats in particular have strong enough teeth to chew through metal.
Sometimes used as a threat to prisoners in a dungeon.
See also Cruel and Unusual Death
and Rodents of Unusual Size
. Contrast with Even the Rats Won't Touch It
, and with Reduced to Ratburgers
, an inversion. Not to be confused with You Dirty Rat
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Anime and Manga
- Played for Laughs in the second Ranma ½ movie (Nihao My Concubine) the antagonist unleashes a load of rats to scare all the girls, of course Ranma gets all superior about this, saying she isn't scared of little furry animals. The rats are then pursued by a herd of cats (which are Ranma's Weaksauce Weakness). Hilarity Ensues.
- In the AKIRA manga, after Akira causes the destruction of Tokyo upon reawakening, there's one scene where Chiyoko is waist deep in a pool of water underground and swarms of starving rats swim to her trying to eat her.
- In one episode of Sailor Moon, Zoisite follows Luna and another cat into the sewer. Worn out by the chase, he places his hand on the wall... only to realize it's moving. What follows stirs up a literal wave of rats that is shown swallowing him up at one point.
- In one Crying Freeman story, Bugnug lies crippled in a sewer and a swarm of rats attacks her. She defends herself by killing the rats with her teeth.
- In the Yotsuya arc of Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales, rats are a recurring motif. At least one character is killed by an application of this trope.
- Taken Up to Eleven in the horror manga Region, as a plague of starving rats swarms across the entire nation of Japan.
- Combined with Red Eyes, Take Warning, A huge horde of rats is what is shown chasing The Kaiba Brothers in episode 174 of the DOMA / Waking The Dragons Arc. you know things are bad when you have to flee a huge horde of possibly mind controlled rats By Car.
- In some variants of the Child Ballad "Sir Aldingar", the queen's hair is unkempt from the mice and rats gnawing on it while in prison.
- In some variants of the Child Ballad "Young Beichan", the hero's hair is gnawed on by rats in prison.
O whan she saw him, Young Bekie,
Her heart was wondrous sair!
For the mice but an the bold rottons
Had eaten his yallow hair.
- In Robert Southey's ballad "God's Judgment on a Wicked Bishop" (1799, based on 14th century legend) evil Bishop Hatto is eaten alive by the giant army of rats.
They have whetted their teeth against the stones,
And now they pick the Bishop's bones:
They gnaw'd the flesh from every limb,
For they were sent to do judgment on him!
- In Countdown to Final Crisis, Una is eaten alive by a swarm of mutated rats, and shows her Determinator street cred by continuing to fight them long enough to will her flight ring to another character, who escapes.
- The Shooting Star has Tintin hugging a lamppost to escape rats swarming through the streets.
- In one issue of The Phantom, set in Victorian London, this is the fate of the Jack the Ripper inspired villain Hack Jack, who gets trapped in the sewers while fleeing the current Phantom, and is devoured by a horde of rats. His remains arent found until weeks later.
Folklore and Mythology
- The clan in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents like to pretend to be this as a scam in a spoof of "The Pied Piper of Hamelin": then they come into contact with a real (mind controlled) rat horde.
- Warrior Cats: Bluestar loses one of her lives to a horde of rats in the first book. In the Super Editions Firestar's Quest and Sky Clan's Destiny, a huge Hive Mind swarm of rats serves as a major antagonist. There are so many that when one character tells Firestar "you can't see the ground for all the rats", Firestar thinks he's exaggerating, but realizes when he goes to fight the rats himself that the cat was right.
- In The Jungle, Stanislovas is eaten by rats after being locked in the lard factory he works in at night.
- The short story "The Burial of the Rats" by Bram Stoker features a character recounting a tale where a bunch of hungry rats had cleaned a corpse clean from flesh, leaving only bones behind.
- The trilogy of novels The Rats, Lair and Domain by James Herbert.
- Subverted in "The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe. The rats don't injure the hero (much, and anyway, what's a few rat bites when there's a heavy, razor-sharp pendulum about to cut you in two?)), he uses them to escape his bonds.
- Subverted in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. After Aslan is killed, mice descend on his body. But it turns out they're only chewing through his ropes.
- The HP Lovecraft story "The Rats in the Walls".
- In Anita Blake Vampire Hunter, you have the rodere, groups of giant wererats. As if that wasn't frightening enough, they can call regular rats to an extent to horde around them, and so can some vampires.
- In Straight Silver, Gaunt and a team of infiltrators are sneaking through an abandoned siege tunnel when an artillery bombardment starts. This sends a horde of rats straight through the team. While no one died, they still bemoaned their situation and all of them were bit multiple times.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars, section "John Carter and the Giant of Mars". John Carter fights a swarm of ulsios (six legged Martian rats) and is captured by them.
- A novel-only sequel to Warriors of Virtue had Tsun return to her home, an underground Lifespring facing a nasty rat infestation. Several times, she has to deal with the rodents being so thickly packed on the ground that there's hardly any place to step, and reacts to being bitten at least once.
- In 1984, Room 101 contains, for Winston Smith anyway a caged-apparatus that immobilises the body while letting rats crawl over every inch of skin. This proves frighteningly effective at carrying out the room's ultimate purpose, especially because Winston is absolutely, utterly terrified of rats.
- In The Runelords, at one point the One True Master of Evil unleashes a horde of plague rats against human villages.
- In The Bone Collector, one of the victims is chained to a sewer pipe and left to be eaten by rats. Lincoln chews out his assistant for shooting one the rats off of the victim and thereby contaminating the crime scene.
- The Stephen King short story Graveyard Shift (from the Night Shift collection), as well as being an example of Rodents of Unusual Size.
- In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a swarm of friendly rats help get the Cowardly Lion away from a field of sleep-inducing poppies. This would have been too difficult to replicate in the 1939 film version of course.
- In Valerie Martin's novel A Recent Martyr, the main character, Emma, is on an outing to a public park near the river when she sees an army of dying rats being cleaned up (i.e., hidden) by city workers. This is foreshadowing for the epidemic of bubonic plague that occurs later in the story.
- In the novel Metro 2033 Artyom's backstory includes him losing his mother at the age of five when the station they were living in was overrun by a horde of rats. Artyom only survived because his mother gave him to one of the three men who managed to escape after begging him to save him.
- In the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story Ill Met in Lankhmar, sorcerer Hristomilo's familiar can summon a swarm of rats.
- In The Lotus War novel Stormdancer, the Royal Huntmaster calls up a swarm of rats in fight.
- Horror writer James Herbert made his name with debut novel The Rats, where London's rat population mutates into an intelligent hive-mind, grows to monstrous size, develops a taste for human flesh, and can transmit a terrible new plague into the bargain. London is soon taken over and the war of humans versus rats begins. The Rats spawned several sequels and plays on the oft-repeated assertion that in London you are never more than twenty feet away from a rat.
- Stephen Gilbert's Ratman's Notebooks involves a reclusive young man who trains an army of rats to do his bidding. Adapted into two different films called Willard.
Live Action TV
- 1000 Ways to Die had a man killed by rats that had gnawed through his face and head into his brain.
- In one episode of Survivorman, Les Stroud is stranded on a tropical island that is utterly overrun with hordes of ship rats, against which Stroud has to build a shelter. Of course, this being Survivorman, he also ends up eating several of the rats.
- In a rare friendly example of a Swarm of Rats, an episode of Hoarders featured a man who'd let his one male and two female pet rats escape from their cage, then didn't have the heart to stop feeding the resulting horde of offspring. By the time help arrived, he'd been forced out of his own house, which was completely overrun by more than 3000 drywall-gnawing, furniture-destroying rodents. Luckily, animal rescue shelters from all over the state were able to mobilize one of the biggest hoarding-recovery operations of all time, and all but a few severely-injured animals were shipped out to rat-lovers statewide.
- An episode of Grimm featured a creature called a reinigen — essentially a rat-man — that could summon Swarm of Rats to do his bidding. He was nearly framed for the death of a music teacher.
- Dollhouse. At the start of Season 2, a pissed-off Dr Saunders puts lab rats in Topher's cupboard, in a not-too-subtle message of what she thinks of him. His female assistant Ivy has to retrieve them while Topher climbs the nearest railing to get away.
- The 1937 short story "Three Skeleton Key", by George G. Toudouze, was adapted several times for the horror/mystery anthology series "Escape" and "Suspense". Vincent Price starred in two of these adaptations. The story features three French lighthouse keepers who are trapped in their tower by a starving horde of rats.
- In the BBC's "Dick Barton - Special Agent" (a 1972 re-recording of the lost original serial "Dick Barton and the Secret Weapon"), the heroes are lured into a room by the villain, who traps them there with a pack of bloodthirsty rats.
- In Stephen Gallagher's "The Last Rose of Summer", a 1977 science fiction production for Manchester's Picadilly Radio, the protagonist is attacked by rats in the dark buried streets below a future city.
Table Top RPG
- The Skaven in Warhammer.
- Packmasters breed and command swarms of rats, and their Grey Seers even have spells that summon them.
- Dungeons & Dragons has rules and stats for swarms of rats (and many other types of vermin).
- Paranoia adventure Send in the Clones. One of the many threats the Troubleshooters will face in Sewerworld is swarms of hungry, mean, housecat-sized rats. They rush out of the darkness and attack the PCs.
- This is a staple trope of Magic: The Gathering, which has cards like Relentless Rats, Sanity Gnawers, Ravenous Rats, Sewer Rats, Stronghold Rats, Swarm of Rats, Septic Rats, Plague of Vermin and even Hellhole Rats, which are on fire. Relentless Rats is notable for being an exception to the normal "maximum four copies of a card in one deck" rule. You can have as many as like, and the more you have the stronger they get.
- BIONICLE: the Stone Rat and Kinloka Rahi are notorious for being voracious eaters and gathering in swarms.
- The in-universe manual of Brutal Legend offers two explanations what a Ratgut is: either a humanoid with a swarm of rats inside his stomach or a rat hivemind controlling a dead human body.
- Planescape: Torment has cranium rats, which are rats that share a Hive Mind with other cranium rats in close proximity and get smarter in higher numbers. With enough of them, they are capable of human (or superhuman) intelligence and even spellcasting if enough of them gather in one place - several areas of the game feature a Zerg Rush of rats coming at the player character, tossing balls of lightning. There is even a huge collection of cranium rats that form a mysterious being known as Many-As-One, who acts as somewhat of a king of a rat kingdom.
- One of the more gruesome deaths in Fear Effect. One Game Faqs writer had listed this above Resident Evil and Silent Hill as the worst fate to befall a video game character.
- Swarms of rats are a common enemy in Dishonored, also being the carriers of a terrible plague that's gripping the game's setting. The protagonist can weaponize rats as well, by magically summoning them to either attack the enemy or to make a quick escape by possessing one of them while the others deal with enemies. The number of rat swarms you encounter is directly proportional to how many people you kill in the game, since corpses attract rats.
- In South Park: The Stick of Truth, one of Princess Kenny's abilities is Swarm of Rats, in which he summons a huge wave of rats to sic at his enemies (though it can backfire if he fails the prompt, causing them to devour him). Similarly, if he's defeated in combat, rats come by to rip his corpse apart, preventing him from being revived until two turns, after which he comes back by himself.
- In a 2011 arc of Mind Mistress, Forethought is trapped in the backfire of time manipulation device, leaving him moving at a sixtieth of normal speed. At one point, an agent sent to check on him finds rats about to feast upon his apparently no-longer moving body. Imagine a Swarm of Rats moving sixty times faster than in real life and coming at you...
- The Onion's "world history" book has "Corpse eating rats become greatest power in europe" during the World War 1 newspaper headlines.
- Starfire's "demise" in Teen Titans episode "Fear Itself".
- In the early seasons of South Park, Kenny's death of the week was often followed by rats swarming to the body to pick it clean.
- Played for Laughs in Ratatouille, where the rats swarm around the health inspector's car, then come back with him gagged and tied.
- In an episode of the 80's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, Donatello accidentally creates an evil clone of himself, who then joins forces with a mob boss and clones thousands of rats to take over New York City.
- Any episode involving the Rat King also tended to involve this, since he kept hundreds of rats as pets in his sewer home.
- Done to frightening effect in the Code Lyoko episode "Plagued". Think a swarm of rats is bad? Try a swarm of rats possessed by an evil computer program!
- Happens in the "Planet Radio" episode of Superjail!, where a rat eats the vocal chords of an inmate and starts to talk and rule over other rats.
- The Haunted World of El Superbeasto ends with thousands of rats coming out of a guy's arse (you read that right).
- Used horrifyingly in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Gorillas in Our Midst", in which The Spectre turns a supervillain into cheese—but leaves him alive and conscious—and then releases a swarm of mutant rats to eat him alive.
- The Australian mouse plague. Not only did the mice destroy the whole crop, the livestock were in danger of being eaten alive.
- The BBC reported a similar plague of rats in India during 2007, details.
- There have been increased reports of rats swarming elderly people at nursing homes who are too weak to fend them off.
- Taft, California was invaded by millions of mice in late 1926.