The Black Plague Was Probably Caused By Cute Gerbils, Not Dirty Rats


When many of us think about the black plague which ravaged much of Europe on the 14th century, we associate it with scurrying, nasty, dirty little rats. The truth, as it turns out, shows that we are just a bit off. Seems the real culprit may have been some (decidedly less creepy looking) gerbils.

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, gerbils — specifically, scary-as-(bleep) sounding giant gerbils — are more likely to have been the cause. Scientists studied tree rings from Europe to determine historical weather patterns, and then cross-referenced that information with historical records of plague outbreaks.

They found that plague outbreaks correlated positively with warmer, wetter weather in Asia, but not Europe — meaning that plague was mostly likely incubated in Asia, and then carried over the Silk Road into Europe, via gerbils. So next time you think a gerbil would make a fun pet for your seven-year-old, remember: it’s got the blood of 200 million Europeans on its cute little paws.

Okay, so these were giant, terrifying gerbils, so really, I think normal sized rats sounded LESS scary. I almost wish I didn’t find this out. A world that once had giant gerbils that could effortlessly dwindle the population is a world I don’t want to pretend ever existed.

[Image and story via Gizmodo]

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