Let us declare the start of a brand new holiday tradition and celebrate Christmas this year by offering treats not to a nebulous northern demon who slides down chimneys but instead to the true bringers of holiday cheer, which is to say, rats.
This seasonal innovation comes to us by way of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, which has brightened the darkest days of the year with an offering to their star nesomyids, a pair of bomb-sniffing rats named Celine and Mona Lisa. Technically, they are not the Ratatouille kind of rodent and are Gambian Pouched Rats—rodents, sure, but too large to fit under a toque and with big bulky cheeks like a hamster.
Thanks to their keen sense of smell and light weight, the species is sometimes trained to detect landmines in former war zones so the weapons can be located and disarmed. In fact, the ladies at the zoo were originally meant to be working rats, but they turned out not to be great at it—one of them kept digging up the mines and carrying them to her human handlers—so they were retired and now live a life of treats. Allow their Christmas joy to be yours as well.
Pouched rats can also be trained to sniff out tuberculosis in patients—they’re able to examine 100 samples in 20 minutes, unlike lab tests conducted by human scientists, which can take days. They can also fit about two golf balls’ worth of food in their cheeks (the rats, not the scientists, though now that I think of it I don't want to make any assumptions, I've known some very elastic scientists), and objectively speaking they are also extremely cute (both the rats and the scientists). You can see photos of Celina and Mona Lisa getting adorable tiny health exams here. Please spend your winter vacation drawing pictures of pouched rats working in hospital settings, wearing adorable little lab coats, tiny stethoscopes around their necks, stuffing berries into their cheeks as they rush off to order some x-rays (of a salamander [he's fine, just a sprain]).
Where were we? Oh yes the holiday snacks, prepared by biologist Suzanne Akerman and aide Erica Baker, are a follow-up to another delightful video in which the rats consumed miniature Thanksgiving treats. And while the zoo & aquarium are wonderful, if you’re not in the mood for an indoor visit right now, nearby Northwest Trek in Tacoma is an excellent alternative. They've filled their park with gnomes and pumpkin-snowmen and poems—it’s a lovely little place to visit if you’re looking for an animal encounter in an outdoorsy setting.
They also have roaming caribou and bison and elk—but can any of them sniff out tuberculosis? No, of course not, don't be ridiculous, when's the last time you saw a bison doctor? Most professional bison are lawyers.
Anyway, happy holidays to all creatures great and small, and may the spirit of Christmas rats bless your family into the new year.