At ZooLab, our Rangers meet people of all ages with phobias of one or more of our creatures. Over the next few months, Jessica will examine some of the most common animal fears that we encounter to debunk myths and help you see our extraordinary creatures in a whole new light.
What is a phobia?
Phobias are the overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal (NHS, 2018). Rationally, it is highly unlikely that something bad will happen. Phobias may develop from childhood experiences, environmental factors or association of ideas.
With 8.7 million species of animals out there, it is no surprise that zoophobia is one of the most common classes of phobia in the world! We know that tarantulas, snakes, rats and creepy crawlies strike fear in many adults (chances are you will know an a arachnophob or musophob) but our animal team are on hand to help turn a fear to love - or at least a tolerance. ZooLab workshops allow our presenters to address these fears through tackling common misconceptions with fact and participants meeting the creatures in a safe environment.
This month's phobia: Muriphobia
Muriphobia is the fear of rats (and mice). Rats tend to divide a ZooLab audience - while a lot of people see their cute faces and playful nature, others fear or dislike them for a few reasons that we will discuss below.
So what is it about rats?
Is it their appearance? Many people are weirded out by a rat tail. However, these play an important role for survival. Rats scaly tails have a thermoregulatory function - it helps regulate body temperature and stops overheating. It also helps them to balance while jumping and climbing.
Did you know? During play, rats make happy “laughing” sounds. Happy rats also boggle, their eyes move in and out of the eye sockets - this is the equivalent of purring (see video above).
Is it the number of rats? Myth: You are never more than 20 feet away from a rat!
This is impossible! Countrylife states, "If you were standing in any one spot in an urban environment, at worst you would be some 50 metres away from a rat."
Is it that when there is one rat there is likely to be another? Rats are incredibly sociable animals and do reproduce very quickly. Wild rats live within a community and in order to live a happy life need to be with others of their kind. For this reason, pet rats should be kept in a same-sex