Rats weren't behind the Black Death


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I blame publishers for spreading The Plague.

I, for one, will welcome back our Asian giant gerbil overlords…

I’m reasonably sure I’ve heard this theory before. But its fairly specifically about where the initial outbreaks in/around Asia came from and where the disease made the jump to humans. Frankly there just weren’t boats infested with Gerbils running into ports, or great infestations of gerbils taking over European cities during the various plagues. But bubonic plague is endemic to rodents in that part of the world, and gerbils are one of the carrier species (also apparently marmots).

So I can safely still think of rats as a huge part of the problem, and the largest driver of infection in most populated areas. We just (maybe) have a better idea of where it came from in the first place.


So the actual scientific article appears a bit more restricted. According to the abstract the prevailing theory is that the plague was introduced to Europe once, and that the multiple waves over the centuries were due to the disease persisting in the local rodent population between outbreaks. The authors claim that instead, there were multiple introductions of the plague to Europe carried from Asia by gerbils and driven by climate. They do not appear to be disputing that rats native to Europe were carriers responsible for the spread of the disease throughout Europe.

Anyway, it is a minor point, but worth pointing out how even simple non-controversial science reporting can be poorly reflective of the actual research.



Can you imagine Jimmy Cagney with “Come out and take it, you dirty yellow-bellied gerbil”?

I think not.


So they were unwitting dupes for their shadowy Gerbil Overlords? Seems legit.

BREAKING: Hamsters spread leprosy.

Pangolins spread Festering Chutterbucks.

I recommend Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt, a fine alt-history look at a Plague-depleted Europe and the world created.

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I’m glad they ferreted this out.


Berry punny, fanks.


I don’t think the Rats decided to do this on their own, they mustelid them on.


those weasels!




Hah, interesting, though it threatens to remove from my mind the ever near wonderfully terrible images of mysterious turkish ships landing in Europe, where all of the people were dead… and the skulking black rats that snuck off… ah, what imagery.

To be replaced with… giant gerbils? Lol. Come on. Ruining the plague for me.

Beetlejuice: Ah. Well… I attended Juilliard… I’m a graduate of the Harvard business school. I travel quite extensively. I lived through the Black Plague and had a pretty good time during that. I’ve seen the EXORCIST ABOUT A HUNDRED AND SIXTY-SEVEN TIMES, AND IT KEEPS GETTING FUNNIER EVERY SINGLE TIME I SEE IT… NOT TO MENTION THE FACT THAT YOU’RE TALKING TO A DEAD GUY… NOW WHAT DO YOU THINK? You think I’m qualified?

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Took me hours. HOURS before this came back around and hit me.

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Actually, by Benedictow’s estimate, the plague nearly split the difference and killed 60% of the European population in the initial outbreak. Well, the European human population.

But if it kept up at that rate it would have killed 99% of the European human population after the 5th outbreak. In the 1380s rather than the 1340s.

But it didn’t.

Perhaps it killed 90% of the European black rat population and 60% of the European human population in the first outbreak, 9% more and 6% more in the second outbreak, etc…?

And that just fits so much better [though not well] that I can’t buy into a lot of the alternative theories. Such as primarily-pneumonic transmission, anthrax, ebola, Y. pestis originating on Jupiter or Venus, etc.

I wish we could retire the phrase “Scientists now think” from synopses of articles about particular scientists announcing interesting new findings. It seems to imply that all scientists have suddenly reached some new consensus.


Science does not generally imply any, all, always, none, never, or entirely anything. Binary outcomes are not science, they are data.