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? Horrifying.
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, Devoured by the Horde, and Rodents of Unusual Size. A subtrope of The Swarm and a sister trope of Spider Swarm. Contrast with Even the Rats Won't Touch It, and with Reduced to Ratburgers, an inversion. Not to be confused with You Dirty Rat!.
- 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 a cat named Rhett Butler (Hercules in the DIC dub) 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.
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: 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.
- The Elder Sister-like One: This is one of the many unpleasant results of someone in the past having dabbled in black magic in the storehouse behind Yuu's and Chiyo's home.
- InuYasha: lesser youkai Zushinezumi carries around a zushi (a wooden container for buddhist scrolls) which spawns an endless horde of ravenous, one-eyes rats that devour everything in their path and multiplies if damaged. Hakudoshi unleashes them to wreak havoc in an entire valley in order to force Kikyo to come out.
- 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 a 14th century legend) the evil Bishop Hatto is eaten alive by a 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 aren't found until weeks later.
- In Drowntown, Leo gets mobbed by rats, and since they're escaped genetic experiments with human-level intelligence, they're able to tie him up. They have something of a grudge against him, but he's able to talk them into letting it slide and doing some work for him. (Their king says that they're sparing him because he's the only creature lower than they are.)
- During the Batman: No Man's Land crossover event over in Robin Tim found himself dealing with swarms of rats directed by the Ratcatcher in Gotham's sewers while evading other villains like Freeze while looking for a rumored underground cache of foodstuffs. The rats manage to get in a few bites and Tim falls in the sewage which means he spends a while ill afterwards.
- This is how the Evil Sorcerer Mephisto bit the dust in Tex Willer, fulfilling a prophecy which stated that he wouldn't die by a man's hand.
- The Majestic Rat in The Pitiful Human Lizard has a ton of rats at his command.
- Thousand Shinji: A swarm of sick, diseased, ferocious old rats lives in Rei's apartment. They act as a very effective deterrent to trespassers.
- Played for Laughs in Ratatouille, where the rats swarm around the health inspector's car, then come back with him gagged and tied.
- The Haunted World of El Superbeasto ends with thousands of rats coming out of a guy's arse (you read that right).
- Sherlock Gnomes: When their boat is stranded by the falling water level in the sewer, Sherlock and Watson start using ropes to haul the boat off the floor of the tunnel. Gnomeo and Juliet are confused as to why, but quickly learn it is to get the boat (and them) out of the way of the swarm of rats that is approaching.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has a whole catacombs full of them under the city of Venice.
- Similarly in From Russia with Love, after the explosion in the Russian embassy, Bond and Tatania's escape route in the underground reservoir is diverted by a swarm of rats.
- In the movie El Norte, the brother and sister sneaking over the Mexican border crawl through a sewer line at one point and are nearly eaten alive by a swarm of rats. They survive, but the sister contracts a disease from a rat bite and dies later.
- Willard, after the title character befriends the rats in his basement and trains them so he can exact revenge on his boss. In the 2003 movie, the swarm of rats even consume a live cat.
- Titanic (1997) had a non-threatening example. Some of the Third Class passengers decided the best way to find their way abovedecks was to follow the swarm of fleeing rats.
Tommy Ryan: If this is the direction the rats are going that's fine with me!
- In Wild Beasts, a horde of PCP-crazed rats ascend from the sewers and kill a couple making out in their car. They prove to be so bad that the officials have to deal with them with a flamethrower.
- Ladder 49 had this. It wasn't a swarm, though...more of a sea, really...
- Ghostbusters II averts this when the guys are down in the subway system.
Winston: Just shut up about the rats!
- In Ghostbusters (2016), one of the hauntings shown plaguing the city is a swarm of ghost rats that come flying out of a subway entrance.
- The mutant rats in Deadly Eyes move in one swarm around Toronto, attacking people after another. Once they make a move against a new subway tunnel, they receive a fiery death in a crowded space.
- Garfield comes across a huge swarm of these in an alley while trying to find Odie. They plan on eating him, and when Garfield says that they wouldn't like him because he's too fat, they say that fat's fine with them. He finally gets rid of them by promising his mouse friend (who had arrived on the scene) his favorite macadamia cookies, and the mouse shoos the rats away.
- A rat horde plays a McGuffin-type role in "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" and may well be the Ur-Example.
- Some versions of the "Dick Whittington" tale have a plague of rats, the Pantomime versions nearly always has one with the character of King Rat being the major Big Bad.
- Polish tradition holds that Prince Popiel, supposedly a tyrannical ruler that lived in the 9th century, was eaten alive by mice while he was being besieged in a tower.
- Similarly, according to the legend, Archbishop Hatto (either Hatto I or II) was eaten alive by either rats or mice as divine punishment for locking many poor peasants into a barn and then burning it.
- 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: Rats serve as antagonists numerous times throughout the books, always attacking in huge swarms.
- Bluestar loses one of her lives to a horde of rats in the first book.
- In the Super Editions Firestar's Quest and SkyClan's Destiny, a huge Hive Minded 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 Crookedstar's Promise, a swarm of rats attacks a RiverClan patrol in a barn, killing Hailstar.
- Yellowfang's Secret has ShadowClan facing off against swarms of rats (one of their primary food sources) twice. The second time, Foxheart is killed by two rats who jump on her as if they were trained.
- 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?), and in fact 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 H. P. Lovecraft story "The Rats in the Walls" has this occur in the backstory, where a huge swarm of rats came flowing out of the ruins of the De la Peur estate sometime after they had been massacred by their son, killing both livestock and people. They came from the caverns underneath the estate, having already devoured all of the De La Peurs human "cattle"
- 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 Nineteen Eighty-Four, 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.
- Rats also appear in the novella '1922' from Full Dark, No Stars.
- 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.
- In the last Farthing Wood book, White Deer Park is colonized by rats. The initial settlers soon become a horde that threatens even the larger carnivores. Several characters are bitten to death by swarms of rats.
- In Revelation Space, the Lighthugger Nostalgia for Infinity has janitor rats, bioengineered rodents that the ship uses for cleaning. After the ship gets taken over by Sun Stealer, he uses the ship's control over the rats to make a swarm that attacks the crew.
- In The Girl from the Miracles District, the Bestiar, who can command and talk with rats, is always surrounded by a moving swarm of them.
- Averted in Redwall: While outnumbering the enemy is the most common strategy among villains, it's hardly limited to rats, and no mammalian species seems to follow the Explosive Breeder route, having children one at a time instead.
- Little House on the Prairie: The first season episode "Plague", where a swarm of rats has infected sacks of meal meant for human consumption, causing several of the townsfolk to fall seriously ill (some even die) with typhus.
- 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.
- Whose Line Is It Anyway? had one in a game of "News Flash." As usual, Colin Mochrie was spared from the visuals.
- Afflicted rats turn up in season one of Zoo, devouring a handyman and operating as a Hive Mind.
- Survivors (1975). The Two-Part Episode "The Lights of London" had an After the End community struggling to survive in a rat-infested London.
- The 1937 short story "Three Skeleton Key", by George G. Toudouze, was adapted several times for the radio 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.
- Warhammer: Skaven 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, including some exotic types such as skeletal rat swarms, corpse rat swarms, spectral swarms (incorporeal undead that typically result from careless fireball-flinging adventurers inflicting large amounts of collateral damage on the local rat population), cranium rat swarms (psychic rats!) that become more intelligent as more gather together, and moonrats (rats that become more or less intelligent depending on the phases of the moon). It is also part of the powers of a vampire to summon lower creatures, including swarm of rats. The Tamer of Beasts prestige class, from the book Masters of the Wild, has similar powers and is depicted in the artwork as controlling a massive army of rats.
- 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. They're associated with Black mana and festering disease, and tend to get bonuses for dealing damage or being in the presence of other rats. 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.
- Dominion: The "Rats" card has the effect of trashing one of your other cards and replacing it with a Rats card. If you're not careful, they can clog your deck and reduce your chances of drawing something more useful.
- A Touch of Evil: The Rat's Nest minion can be a really nasty challenge, as a conga line of rats grows every round. However, the reward for beating it is worthwhile.
- BIONICLE: the Stone Rat and Kinloka Rahi are notorious for being voracious eaters and gathering in swarms.
- The in-universe manual of Brütal 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 GameFAQs 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.
- The protagonist of Layers of Fear believes that his house is infested with rats. No one else can see them.
- In Dwarf Fortress, rats are a common vermin that devour your food, bone and shell stockpiles, give dwarves unhappy thoughts, and spontaneously appear in large swarms.
- One of these serves as a boss during a dungeon escape in Lunarosse. They're even more of a threat due to magic enhancement, but it leaves them Weakened by the Light.
- Grid Warrior takes place in cyberspace where one of the enemy types are programs called Computer Rats. They look like computer mice, appear in huge numbers, and initially ignore you... but as soon as you hurt one of them the entire swarm will close in and attack with weak electrical shocks that bypass Damage Reduction. Since there's a lot of them, the damage can add up fast.
- A Plague Tale: Innocence is set during the Hundred Years War, around the period of the Black Plague. The rat hordes will eat anyone who isn't close to a fire source.
- In a 2011 arc of Mindmistress, 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 Order of the Stick: The Mechane airship happens to have a sizable rat population, since when a vampire uses his "Children of the Night" power inside, it summons a swarm of rodents big enough to overwhelm the Order's animal companions.
- While young ursipedes in Here There Be Monsters are not actually rats they're about the same size, and when Victor accidentally steps through the covering to a nest full of them their swarming out of it and up his leg invoke a swarm of rats quite well.
- ''Tales of the Questor": Has a swarm of shadow rats made by a rat king and a magical device.
- The Onion's "world history" book has "Corpse-eating rats become greatest power in Europe" during the World War I newspaper headlines.
- There's an hypothetical question around the internet. "Pick two. They will defend you. The rest is coming to kill you."◊. Among your options are 50 eagles, 10 crocodiles, 3 bears, 7 bulls, 1 human with a rifle, 15 wolves, 5 gorillas, 4 lions... and 10000 rats. Naturally, the rats tend to be a top option because of this trope.
- TierZoo episode "The Optimal Team Composition", which discusses the "Pick Two. They will defend you. The rest is coming to kill you." question◊. One of the choices is 10000 rats. Tier Zoo explains that they're pretty much the top choice to pick, since you will be overrun if they aren't picked, while if picked the entire Zerg Rush is very capable of taking down all the other animals on the list via Death of a Thousand Cuts with the possible exception of the flight-capable eagles not that it matters since the eagles are the other top choice. Of note, picking the rats and eagles means that you have 200+ rats against every other animal — which is considered overkill, even against a bear or crocodile.
- 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.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987):
- In one episode, 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.
- 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 Simpsons:
- In "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star", Groundkeeper Willie gets his revenge for being cast as the village idiot in the school's medieval festival by having rats swarm out of a giant pie when Lisa cuts it open.
- Also happens in "Homer's Enemy" after the derelict factory Bart bought for $1 collapses overnight, and Bart wonders where all the rats will go. Cue a massive horde of rats swarming out of the wreckage... and right into Moe's Tavern.
Moe: Alright, everybody stuff your pants into your socks!
- In Lucky and Zorba, the rats plan an uprising against the town's cats.
- An episode of The Littles entitled "The Rats are Coming!" has such swarms of rats appearing throughout the town of Grand Valley on a dark and stormy night, looking for shelter from the rain and light flooding. This especially is a threat to the Littles, due to their small mouse-like size.
- The Australian mouse plague. Not only did the mice destroy the whole crop, the livestock were in danger of being eaten alive.
- Also mass migrations of long-haired rats in 2011. Confirming Australian Wildlife's reputation as Real Life horror.
- 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.
- The infamous bubonic plague or "black death" was believed to have been caused by the rat population in Europe. Since the rats carried fleas which in turn carried Yersinia pestis.
- Rats frequently make their home near fast food restaurants in urban areas. They generally stay there because the restaurants either have poor pest control or the customers leave their litter around for rats to carry off.