Rat Plagues in Western Queensland

Article metrics


PLAGUES of native species of rodent recur from time to time in the dry inland plains of Australia1,2,3,4. Palmer3 describes an outbreak of rats (apparently the long-haired rat, Rattus villosissimus Waite4) which occurred after continuous rains during 1869–70, and moved northwards across the Gulf Country plains from the head of the Flinders River (Fig. 1). There was a corresponding increase in native dogs, snakes, hawks and owls which, together with the exhaustion of the food supply, the drying of the grass at the end of the season and their own cannibalism, brought the plague to an end. Evidence of previous plagues was found in "hollow trees, in which owls had lived for years, [which] were filled with the bones and skulls of millions of rats". Troughton4 (p. 286) observed another outbreak of R. villosissimus on the Barkly Tableland in 1934. I have been unable to obtain records of plagues on the plains of Central Western Queensland further back than the beginning of this century; but since then R. villosissimus has erupted here at intervals of approximately eleven years, in 1907, 1918, 1930–31 and 1940–42. Each time the rats travelled in a roughly south-easterly direction. During April–June 1907 they moved at night on a 150-mile front south and south-east from the Flinders River, and were followed by large numbers of wild domestic cats and dingoes1. In this year, and in 1918, it was observed that practically all those trapped were males1.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Le Souef, A. S., Burrell, H., and Troughton, E. le G., "The Wild Animals of Australia", 105 (London: Harrap, 1926).

  2. 2

    Longman, H. A., Mem. Queensland Mus., 5, 23 (1916).

  3. 3

    Palmer, E., Proc. Roy. Soc. Queens., 2, 193 (1885).

  4. 4

    Troughton, E. le G., "Furred Animals of Australia",271, 286 (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1941).

  5. 5

    Topley, W. W. C., Lancet, 477, 531 and 645 (1936).

  6. 6

    Elton, C., "Voles, Mice and Lemmings" (Oxford, 1942).

  7. 7

    Clements, F. E., and Shelford, V. E., "Bio-Ecology" (New York: Wiley, 1939).

  8. 8

    Elton, C., Brit. J. Exp. Biol., 2, 119 (1924).

  9. 9

    Elton, C., "Animal Ecology" (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1927).

  10. 10

    Elton, C., and Nicholson, M., J. Anim. Ecol, 11, 96 (1942).

  11. 11

    Huntington, E., Science, 74, 229 (1931).

  12. 12

    Cutler, D. W., Crump, L. M., and Sandon, H., Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc., B, 211, 317 (1922).

  13. 13

    Gause, G. F., "La théorie mathématique de la lutte pour vie" (Act. Sci. et Indr. No. 277. Paris: Herman, 1935).

  14. 14

    Huntsman, A. G., J. Fish. Res. Board Can., 5, 227 (1941).

  15. 15

    Severtzoff, S. A., Quart. Rev. Biol., 9, 409 (1934).

  16. 16

    Smith, H. S., Ecol. Monogr., 9, 311 (1929).

  17. 17

    Volterra, V., and D'Ancona, U., "Les Associations biologiques au point de vue mathématique" (Act. Sci. et Indr. No. 243. Paris: Herman, 1935).

  18. 18

    Jones, I., "Tables of Rainfalls in Queensland", Meteorological Bureau, Brisbane (1933).

  19. 19

    MacLagan, D. S., Proc. Univ. Durham Phil. Soc., 10, 173 (1941).

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.