Tags: gerbils | black death | plague | rats

Gerbils? Black Death Plague Study Suggests Rats Weren't to Blame

Image: Gerbils? Black Death Plague Study Suggests Rats Weren't to Blame
Two Gerbils. (Isselee/Dreamstime.com)

By    |   Tuesday, 24 Feb 2015 04:27 PM

A new study suggests that gerbils, not rats, may be to blame for outbreaks of the bubonic plague, or black death, in Europe.

The disease first arrived in Europe from Asia in 1347, with new outbreaks occurring during the next 400 years.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study examined tree-ring records to determine if weather conditions during the time might support the idea that outbreaks of the disease came from disease-carrying fleas in rat colonies in Europe.

"For this, you would need warm summers, with not too much precipitation. Dry but not too dry,” Professor Nils Christian Stenseth, from the University of Oslo, said, according to the BBC. "And we have looked at the broad spectrum of climatic indices, and there is no relationship between the appearance of plague and the weather."

Researchers believe that each outbreak of the disease originated in Asia when conditions there favored the giant gerbil.

"We show that wherever there were good conditions for gerbils and fleas in central Asia, some years later the bacteria shows up in harbor cities in Europe and then spreads across the continent," Stenseth said, according to the BBC.

The study results would explain why the disease appeared intermittently in Europe.

The researchers now plan to analyze DNA from European skeletons of the era to seek further evidence that each outbreak was from a newly arrived strain of the disease rather than a resurgence from within Europe’s rat population, The Washington Post said.

Rats also succumb to the black death more easily than gerbils, Science News reported.

“There is no appropriate rodent reservoir here in Europe,” Stenseth said, according to Science News.

Twitter users commented about the study.



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A new study suggests that gerbils, not rats, may be to blame for outbreaks of the bubonic plague, or black death, in Europe.
gerbils, black death, plague, rats
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2015-27-24
Tuesday, 24 Feb 2015 04:27 PM
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