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Rat Attack

Program Overview


NOVA teams up with National Geographic to explore why mysterious rat plagues ravage northeast India every 48 years.

The program:

  • travels to the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram, where rats are estimated to have eaten more than 50,000 metric tons of rice, devastating the farmers' fields.

  • visits the remote village of Thlangkang, where rats have devoured farmers' rice and corn crops.

  • reports that the majority of rats causing the damage are black rats, likely because their rapid breeding and early weaning give them an advantage over their competitors.

  • reveals that the rat population explodes every 48 years, coinciding with the blossoming and fruiting of the local bamboo plant, an ecological event known by the local people as mautam.

  • follows biologists to the Mizoram village of Zamuang, where the mautam has occurred but the rats have not yet invaded the fields.

  • notes that although black rats are normally kept in check because the forest offers little to eat, over the course of the bamboo fruiting each of the well-fed females can start a cycle that results in up to 200 offspring.

  • states that bamboo is a grass that is inexpensive, versatile in its use, and ten times stronger than steel.

  • describes how bamboo spreads by underground rhizomes.

  • explains that the large fruiting event ensures the plant's survival—so much seed is produced that predators cannot eat it all, thus allowing the plant to germinate and produce new bamboo.

  • introduces four methods biologists use to determine how many rats are in one farmer's rice field and the forest that surrounds it.

  • tracks how the rat population in Zamuang grows in distinct pulses.

  • reports how the Zamuang rice fields avoid extensive damage despite a substantial increase in the rat population.

  • returns to Thlangkang, where scientists determine why the fields were devastated there and not in Zamuang.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after program is recorded off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Rat Attack
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