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Do Rats Like to be Tickled?

Researchers tickled rats to learn more about how animals respond to playful situations.

Three panels of a hand tickling a rat on its back and belly.

© Gloveli, SImonnet, Tang, et. al. “Play and tickling responses map to the lateral columns of the rat periaqueductal gray”. July 28, 2023.

Humans aren’t the only animals that play. Dogs play, many birds play…and even rats play. In a recent study, researchers wanted to learn more about how animals’ brains are linked to their love of play. So, they tickled rats.

Researchers at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, played with and tickled rats on their backs and bellies while observing the animals’ brain activity. They found that if the rats were in a good mood, they actually enjoyed being tickled. There were a couple of signs that the rats were having fun. For one thing, they would seek out more tickling by chasing the hand that had just tickled them. In addition, a microphone enabled researchers to hear the rats making playful chirping sounds that they compared to human giggles.

Scientists found that when the rats were stressed, they didn’t giggle as much in response to the tickling. Previous studies have shown that humans who are stressed also giggle less in response to tickling because (even though some of the laughter is involuntary) they’re not enjoying it.

Scientists think that learning about play and why it’s important could help expand their understanding of how the brain adapts to difficult situations. And knowing what sparks joy in the brain could be helpful in treating certain conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

Did You Know?

Dr. Marina Davila-Ross, University of Portsmouth

Scientists have found that great apes laugh when they’re tickled! Apes, which are highly social, may have developed tickling as a way to maintain their bonds with each other.

Rat Facts

A teen holds a gray and white rat in her hands.

© fizkes—iStock/Getty Images

There are 56 known species of rat in the world! Here’s a little more you might not know about rats.

  1. The Bozavi woolly rat is believed to be the largest species of rat. It’s about 32 inches (81 centimeters) long (including the tail) and weighs more than 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms). The common house rat weighs about 12 ounces (0.34 kilograms).

  2. Rats can start having litters when they are five weeks old!

  3. For a long time, scientists believed that rats were responsible for spreading a disease called the plague through Europe in the 1300s. Today, they believe the rodents that spread the plague were actually gerbils.

  4. Rats’ teeth never stop growing, so they need to gnaw constantly. Rats are famous for being able to chew through soft concrete, wood, plastic, and even cinder blocks.

  5. Rats are intelligent and very social. For this reason, when rats are obtained from a responsible seller, they can make good pets.

Little Animals, Big Family

© Stan Tekiela, Author, Naturalist & Wildlife Photographer—Moment/Getty Images

Yes, some squirrels can fly!

Rodents are everywhere! Well…not quite. There are a couple of places on Earth that are rodent free. Learn about this and more at Britannica School!






to laugh usually loudly or convulsively

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