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"'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? Horrifiying.
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 eat through metal.
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.
- 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.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade had 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.
- Truth in Television about the cat, as colonies of rats can and will mob a predator to defend their nests.
Folklore and Mythology
- 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: Bluestar loses one of her lives to a horde of rats.
- 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.
- 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 H.P. 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' Barsoom novel 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. 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.
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 Squeaking Carpet, 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.
- A recent episode of Grimm featured a creature called a reinigen — essentially a rat-man — that could summon Swarms Of Rats to do his bidding. He was nearly framed for the death of a music teacher.
Table Top RPG
- The Skaven in Warhammer.
- Dungeons and 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.
- Planescape: Torment gives us Many-As-One giant rat hivemind.
- 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.
- 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 with a Hive Mind capable of human (or superhuman) intelligence and even spellcasting if enough of them gather in one place - so several areas of the game feature a Zerg Rush of rats coming at the player character, tossing balls of lightning.
- One of the more gruesome deaths in Fear Effect. One Game Faq writer had listed this above Resident Evil and Silent Hill as the worst fate to befall a video game character.
- In Pokémon, Rattata often reach Goddamned Bats levels, especially early in the game.
- 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.
- Bionicle: the Stone Rat and Kinloka Rahi are notorious for being voracious eaters and gathering in swarms.
- 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!
- 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.