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The average wild rat will only live for about a year, perhaps a year and a half if it's lucky. There are a wide variety of things waiting to kill it off before it even reaches a year old, including disease, predators, and even humans, who are actually natural predators to lowly rodents.
During that one year alone, a female rat has the potential to breed a ridiculous amount of times. To make matters worse (before we have even begun), rats do not recognize incest, so, females will happily mate with their own brothers, fathers, and even sons. There are no breeding "seasons" like there are with other animal species, too; if conditions are just right, the female will mate, give birth, and then breed again within a few hours after giving birth. They are only pregnant for three or four weeks at a time, so you can imagine how many times a rat can be pregnant - and give birth to new, baby rats - in just one twelve-month period.
Female rats can go into a "mating frenzy" (as such) up to fifteen times in just one year. In each frenzy, which can last for around five to eight hours, females can mate as many as five hundred times, with as many different males that are around her. This is to ensure that she absolutely, definitely gets pregnant, and that all females are popping out youngsters as quickly as possible. Unlike other animals who focus on quality or quantity, rats have many, many babies in one year, in the hope that at least a few of them make it to then go on and mate themselves.
When young rats reach between two and four months of age, they are ready and raring to go too, each female starting that frenzied breeding pattern that happened with their mothers before them. It is thought that the earliest a female will breed is at about four weeks of age, but this is rare. It is usually around the six to eight week point that they become sexually mature enough to breed.
If left to their own devices, just one pair of male and female rats can have as many as 1,500-2,000 baby rats in a year, although it is very rare for that many of them to survive to a few weeks old, let alone old enough to mate.
Go back to the Rat Removal page, or learn tips to do it yourself with my How to Get Rid of Rats guide.