Devon Buchanan

Advanced-level animal lovers can even manage to care about gross vermin, so if you’re part of that elite group you might be wondering what happened to New York City’s subway rats. If the subway tunnels flooded, what became of all the creepy-tailed rodents who made their nests down there?

New York magazine spoke to some rat experts about the question, and the short answer is: Some of them died. But others would have been able to climb or swim out of flooded tunnels, because rats are spooky-smart and also very tenacious and street-wise (and good swimmers in calm water, though maybe not in rushing floods). Here’s the interesting part, though: Because alpha rats would have tended to be further down into the subway tunnels, the survivors might be disproportionately submissive. Which could mean a gentler subway rat population overall.

Science writer Bora Zivkovic explained on Twitter:

Normally, only the most stupendous badasses (thanks Neal Stephenson) would survive an event causing mass deaths. That’s one of the ways evolution works. But in this case, the badasses would have been poorly situated for survival, no matter how stupendous they were, because apparently they send the submissive guys up to the normally more-dangerous surface to do the dirty work.

Of course, not all the tunnels flooded — uptown dominant rats would still have survived. Which sort of dashes my dream of a kindly rat population — well, that, and the fact that rats are wily motherfuckers, so even if the alpha rats were scythed away, someone would step up into the Chief Mean Rat position and be just as mean as the mean rats before him. Oh yeah, and the survivors might come into your house and give you hantavirus. Even submissive rats aren’t all that fucking nice.

It was sort of a nice idea while it lasted, though! I guess I’ll just go watch Secret of NIMH again.