September 25, 2007

NOT ALL THE IMPORTATIONS OFFAUNA WERE intentional. The Iberian undoubtedly imported doz- ens, even hundreds, of kinds of insects and animals that he would have preferred leaving behind in the Old World. The Old World rat, as loyal a follower of man as the dog, hitched a ride across the Atlantic and became an important pest and carrier of disease in the ports of colonial America. This was probably the black rat, which is today more common in the tropics and on board vessels than the larger brown rat. Historically, the black rat has been the most important carrier of the bubonic plague, and is as good a vehicle for typhus as any. Rats were not in the Bermudas before the coming of the Europeans; when they arrived, they set off one of the most spectacular ecological disasters of the age. The early seven- teenth-century English colonists unintentionally brought a few of them with them and "the Lord sent upon the Countrey, a very grievous scourge and punishment, threatening the utter ruin and desolation of it." These rats spread to all the islands, honeycombed the earth with their burrows, nested in almost every tree, and nearly ate the colonists out of house and home: "for being destitute of food, many dyed, and we all became very feeble and weake, whereof...some would not; others could not stir abroad to seek reliefe, but dyed in their houses." It seemed the Lord would make the Europeans pay for the ecological sin of breaking out of Europe and bringing their plants and animals with them.

Tags: rats, conquest, fauna importation, environmental destruction

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