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Rats. No thank you.
Rats. No thank you.

Debunked: Is a rat never more than a few metres away?

That would mean there could be one right at the foot of your bed, but is this actually the case?
Aug 18th 2013, 10:30 AM 42,705 103

IN A NEW series, takes a look at an urban myth, old wives’ tale, or something that your mammy told you years ago to see if there’s any truth in it.

You probably heard at some point in the past that there is always a rat within a few metres of you, and you were either fascinated or terrified.

It’s not a nice thought. Wild rats are frequently associated with unclean places, as the more food scraps and rubbish in an area the more they have to eat. They can also carry leptospirosis, commonly known as Weil’s disease, which can cause renal and liver failure. Having a few, if any, hanging around isn’t ideal.

However, seeing as the common brown rat is described as the “most widespread terrestrial mammal in Ireland“, there must be plenty of them to go around and so this is somewhat plausible. But just how many would we need if you were unable to move mere feet without encountering a rat?

Billions, and billions, of rats

  • We’ve settled on six feet as the distance in question as it is a familiar measurement, being just a few inches over the average height of a man, and is somewhere in the middle of the distances cited for this myth.
  • For argument’s sake, we’ll assume each rat has a circular area to themselves. For a rat to always be within six feet of you, this circle must be 11.49 square metres.
  • The area of the Republic of Ireland is 70,273 square kilometres, or 70,273,000,000 square metres.
  • That means we would have to have 6,116,013,925 rats in the Republic of Ireland for it to be impossible to move six feet without encountering a rat.

Obviously this is a bit unrealistic, but does it instill fear deep within your heart? Are you now conscious that one of these 6 billions rats could be scurrying under the floorboards literally inches away from you?


(Image Credit:

Calvin Jones, editor of, can quell your fears. He says that this belief of a rat being six feet away at all times is “almost certainly not the case”.

As well as this, he notes that “rats are very unevenly distributed”. They are more common in cities, where they can capitalise on food waste, and are less common in rural areas.

If you are walking through a busy city, it’s likely that you can be anywhere between three to thirty metres away from a rat at any time, far more than six feet. This is also in no way a guarantee.

Most rats avoid people

“Bear in mind that rats under your feet in sewers are usually separated from you by several metres of solid ground” Calvin told, “and most rats will go out of their way to avoid people, so it’s hardly going to be an issue when you’re walking down a city street.”

And if you do spot one? You will more than likely just see a “brown furry shape” scurrying away, as like most small mammals they’re more scared of you than you are of them.

You can now sleep tight, safe in the knowledge that the world isn’t filled to the brim with rats. There will be a few hanging around in certain spots, but they’re not everywhere.

Oh, and their population is definitely far, far, less than two billion.

Is there a myth you’d like debunked? Email

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Nicky Ryan


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