Rodents, more specifically rats, are regarded in many different ways by people. To some, they are reviled as disease carrying (‘you dirty rat!’) or crop destroying vermin; to others they are intelligent and beloved pets; and to others they are farmed for their fur or used in vivisection (animal experimentation.) There are about fifty-eight known species of native rats and mice, and since European settlement, eight species are known to be extinct with twelve at risk. Some species arrived from Indonesia and Asia and some are unique to Australia, like the water rat. Amongst our native rats, there is one that has a prehensile tail to aid climbing, and some of the other rats have a partly prehensile tail as well. Most rodents have a tail which is almost as long as their bodies. But it is their long front teeth for which they are most easily recognised. Some of our rats can even chew through coconut shell!
Rats traditionally represent the qualities of cleverness, adaptability and cunning. They appear in many children’s stories as unpopular and shady characters, and remind us of the unsavoury effects of greed and dishonesty. Rat as a native symbol may ask you to look beyond any negative stereotyping to the truth or reality in your situation; you may need to overcome a strong and even intense feeling of dislike to reach a point of acceptance.
A need to use your innate intelligence, and perhaps practice some cunning or put into action some clever ploys, may be necessary in some aspect of your life. Native rats blend very well into their environment, and mostly being nocturnal creatures, are not often seen. A sighting is definitely worth taking note of; use it as a message to see how you too can use your own abilities to blend in, adapt and utilise your environment and its resources for your own benefit. To go beyond rat’s traditional egoistical viewpoint, the challenge may be calling you to work for the whole as much as for your own individual requirements.
The water rat, said to be the unpopular creature who mated with a duck in the Dreaming to create the platypus (see Platypus), is specially adapted to swimming with its broad, paddle-shaped hind feet which are partially webbed, flattened tail to aid steering, and dense fur which sheds water. They live around permanent bodies of water. You can tell a water rat is present by the piles of discarded food scraps, which include mussel shells and crab shells that build up around their feeding spots. The water rat can reach the size of a rabbit which makes it the biggest of the rats, including the introduced ones. Their soft luxurious coats were commercially prized until they became a protected species.
Water Rat as a native symbol brings the message of adaptability and the element of change in your life. They are not abundant, so if you do happen to ever encounter one, consider your own ability to be at ease in different environments, as well as your natural intelligence to seek nourishment. The rat, normally a land creature, has adapted very well to an alien water environment. It was the Water Rat who fetched a stone tossed into a waterhole by the Crow to prove that just because something disappears from view, does not mean that it no longer exists (see Butterfly). Water Rat can move beyond normal expectations and prove his capability in differing environments. After he has been swimming, he needs to spend some time in the sun to restore his body temperature – are you in need of some rejuvenation to restore your own comfort levels?