General and Useful Information
This section contain information about diverse subjects that could be of interest to or useful to trustees, owners and residents.
2012 Holidays & Holy Days
Want to know when that public holiday is in 2012 – go to this page for public holidays, the Western Cape school calendar, and the religious holy days of several religions in South Africa.
Pets in Royal Ascot
Many people in Royal Ascot love animals and would like to have pets. Owning pets places a responsibility on owners and they must make sure that they will be able to meet these responsibilities. Pets can be a great nuisance to other residents, and it is important to consider the type of pet and breed that you want to keep to minimize the nuisance factor. While only Sandown Crescent has a strict “no pet” rule, in many other precincts you must obtain written permission from the Trustees to keep a pet.
Register your Dogs and Cats
|In terms of the City’s Animal By-Law 2010 all dogs and cats must be registered. The By-Law places a limit on the number of pets that may be kept depending on the size of the dwelling or property. There is no charge for registration.
|» Download the City’s information sheet.
|» Click here to register online.
|or email for more information.
Dogs have been human’s companions for thousands of years, they probably originally assisted hunting parties rounding up game and other prey. Dogs developed their association with humans in the natural environment, and although they have adapted well to live with humans in the urban environment, they still have specific needs and instincts of which their owners must be aware. These needs are basically that dogs need exercise as well as mental and sensory stimulation. The best way of providing this is by regularly walking them outside the confines of their backyard. Unfortunately not all dogs are obedient and well-behaved, and the authorities have had to introduce controlling measures so that unruly dogs do not disturb, inconvenience or harm other people. Municipal regulations require that dogs must be on leash in any public open space at all times – and that means all streets, parks, play areas and beaches – in fact any place outside the boundaries of your own property. Municipal regulations also state that people must clean up after their dogs, poopscooping is thus required by law – the easiest way is to carry a plastic bag or two with you, turn it inside out to pick up the faeces once the dog has done its business, and put it in your trash bin at home. (Did you know that if your dog is prone to dig up your garden, you can stop this by burying the dog’s own faeces in places where it loves to dig). Dogs’ running around unleashed is a problem in Royal Ascot – if your dog is well-behaved and walks to heel, you might think it not necessary to leash the dog. Unfortunately other dog owners with unruly dogs will then also feel that it is not necessary to leash their dogs. So please leash your dog when taking it out for a walk. The biggest problem with dogs in Royal Ascot is the mess they leave behind. This is not the dog’s fault, the owner is to blame for not removing faeces. This is getting so bad in many areas that parents are now prohibiting their children from using some of the play parks for health reasons – there is just too much dog faeces spread around. The pavements and public areas is a minefield, yet some dog owners do not seem to realize (or care) how much they inconvenience other people. The problem is that if people do not obey the regulations and these problems persist, more stringent measures to control dogs may have to be introduced – and this means that the majority of dog owners who obey the regulations will also suffer. There have already been suggestions that dogs be banned from some public areas in Royal Ascot.
Cats are highly independent creatures and have long been regarded as being less troublesome than dogs to keep – after all you do not have to walk them or scoop up after them. However, in recent years many people have realized that domestic cats can be a far greater threat to our local environment than any other animal. The main problem is that cats can look after themselves in an urban environment and can become feral (go wild) very easily – these feral cats live off rats and mice, but also off wild birds and small animals in gardens, parks and other open areas. In many cities around the world bird populations have been decreasing alarmingly due to predation by cats. It is not only feral cats that can be the problem. Many cat owners probably do not realize how much their cat wanders around catching birds and other small animals. Just the presence of a cat in a garden keeps birds away. Responsible cat owners hopefully care enough about their cats not to let them wander around, but there are already stray cats in Royal Ascot and many of these are a cause for concern. In the Milnerton Conservation Area cats are freely entering and catching birds and other small animals – the Environmental Management Committee is rightfully concerned about the negative effects of this. Cat owners should be aware of what their cats are doing, do not keep breeds of cats that tend to wander around. Unfortunately we have already had several incidences of cats being killed on the roads of Royal Ascot, and cats wandering in the conservation area will have to be trapped and removed by the SPCA. Cat owners must also appreciate the fact that there are residents in the precincts who prefer to have birds in their gardens and that wandering cats are a nuisance to other people.
A Guide to Meeting Procedures
Trustee committees for Royal Ascot Master Property Owners Association and the twenty residential precincts take decisions that affect the living conditions and the pockets of property owners, residents and the general public. While the decisions are for the benefit of most people, there is also the real possibility that some people may fear that a decision adversely affects them and they may even launch a legal challenge to such a decision. Unless a decision or resolution is obviously flawed, it is difficult to successfully challenge the merits of such a decision. Most court challenges are launched on the grounds that the procedures followed to reach that decision were either unconstitutional or that the meeting was not conducted correctly. It is thus important that proper and accepted meeting procedures be followed and adhered to when holding meetings of trustees. The meetings of trustees need not be as formal as, for example, City Council meetings or meetings of committees in Parliament, but even a relatively informal meeting must follow certain basic procedures. These basic procedures and requirements are set out here.
Notice of the meeting
All entitled to attend must receive notice of the meeting, with the time, date and venue. Where the period is prescribed in your constitution, the notice must be sent out within the period prescribed; if the period is not set the notice must be sent out a reasonable period before the meeting. To avoid late notices, it is common practice to set meeting dates for 6 months or a year, or determine the date of the next meeting at the end of a meeting. In most cases the formal notice of the meeting sent to attendees is also the agenda for that meeting.
The role of the chairperson
The chairperson has the most important role in the meeting. He or she will set the pace for the meeting, make sure that people stick to the topics, ensure that democratic decisions are taken, and that everyone is on board with these decisions. Chairing a meeting is a skill, and it is important that chairpersons familiarise themselves with chairing requirements and know what is expected of them. In terms of the various constitutions in Royal Ascot, the chairperson is elected by the trustees at the first trustees meeting after the respective AGM’s. This chairperson will serve until the next AGM, but if he/she resigns the position in the interim, the trustees must elect another chairperson. The constitutions also prescribe that the chairperson shall preside at all meetings, in his/her absence the vice-chairperson shall preside, if both are absent the trustees present shall elect a chairperson for that meeting from their ranks. Please note that only trustees may chair meetings, managing agents or other attendees are not legally empowered to chair a meeting. A good chairperson is an active chairperson; it is not the chairperson’s job to simply keep a list of speakers and to let them speak one after the other. The chairperson should introduce the topic clearly and guide the discussion especially when people start repeating points. When a discussion throws up opposing views, the chairperson should also try to summarise the different positions and where possible, propose a way forward. The way forward can involve taking a vote on an issue, having a further discussion at another date, or making a compromise that most people may agree with. The chairperson should ask for agreement from the meeting on the way forward, and apologise to those who still wanted to speak. Here are the basic steps for chairing a meeting: • The Chairperson opens the meeting and presents the agenda. • He/she should start a meeting by setting a cut-off time when everyone agrees that the meeting should end. This helps to encourage people to be brief. • He/she calls on individuals to introduce or lead the discussion of points on the agenda and gives everyone a chance to speak. • He/she also ensures that no one person dominates discussion. • He/she should try to summarise the discussion clearly restating ideas and proposals put forward. However, there is no need to repeat everything that has been said. • He/she must be able to get agreement on what the decision is – he/she must ensure that everyone understands the decision, the duty of carrying out the decision must be delegated to somebody, and that the person given the responsibility knows what he/she has to do and when it should be done and reported on. • He/she ensures that everyone takes part in the discussions and decision-making. • He/she ensures that the date for the next meeting is set at the end of the meeting.
The agenda for a meeting should be sent to attendees before the meeting; here the items that should appear on the agenda are listed with a brief explanation of how the chairperson should conduct each item. • Welcome: The chairperson opens the meeting and welcomes everyone. Then he/she goes through the agenda to make sure that all necessary items are on the agenda. • Those present and apologies: The apologies of those members not able to attend the meeting are recorded as part of the minutes. Send round an attendance register if there are too many people to just record it in the minutes. Ask if there are any apologies from people who are not there. • Minutes: Minutes are accurate notes of what is discussed and decided on at meetings. Make sure that the minutes of the previous meeting are circulated to everyone or at least read at the beginning of the meeting. Minutes must be adopted at the beginning of a meeting. Give people a chance to read the minutes or read them out aloud. Everyone must agree that they are an accurate record of the last meeting. Members must be given the chance to add where item/points might have been left out. • Matters arising from the minutes: This covers points that were discussed at the last meeting, when perhaps someone was asked to do some work or there have been subsequent developments, which now need discussion. A list of these points is drawn from the previous meeting’s minutes. • Correspondence: This means all the letters that have been received since the last meeting. They can be dealt with in different ways. If your group does not receive many letters, they could be read out and then discussed. Another way is for the secretary to list them with a brief explanation. The chairperson then goes through the list and suggests action. If the issue raised in the letter needs decisive action it can be more fully discussed. • Other items on the agenda: Someone must introduce each item on the agenda. The item introduced could be either a discussion or a report. If it is a discussion someone is given the job of leading the discussion and making proposals on that particular item. If it is a report, the person who is reporting should comment on the following: Was it a task that was completed, what were the problems and what still needs to be done? Discussion should be to examine a problem or discuss an issue in more detail – get everyone’s ideas and points of view on it, arrive at a decision, delegate responsibility for the completion of the task, and follow-up to ensure that it is completed. Only agenda items should be discussed – new agenda items cannot be added as this may prejudice those who are not in attendance. If an urgent matter arose after the agenda was distributed, the secretary should either inform all members immediately that an additional item is being placed on the agenda, or if there is not time for that, the chairperson must request the meeting’s permission to add the item right at the beginning of the meeting. • General: This item on the agenda must not be used to introduce new matters or proposals; it should only be used for items of general information that need to be brought to the attention of the trustees. This slot could be used to inform trustees that an important item will be discussed at the next meeting. • Date of next meeting: Before closing the meeting, the date of the next meeting should be set if possible.
All members should know meeting rules. There are a number of points that people use in meetings to ensure that the meetings run smoothly. Often members use these points to assist the chairperson. The following are procedural points most used in meetings: • Quorum: This is the minimum number of people who must be present for the meeting to conduct business and take decisions. This minimum number is stated in the constitution. The meeting cannot start until there is a quorum. Always ensure that you have this minimum number of people at a meeting, especially when decisions must be taken. If you do not, and decisions are taken, members who were not present can request that it is re-discussed, meaning that time was wasted. • Point of Order: It should be used when a member feels that the meeting procedure is not being stuck to and he/she wants the meeting to return to the correct procedure or order. For example, when an individual is speaking totally off the point, another member might ask on a point of order for the speaker to stick to the agenda. • Point of Information: A member may raise their hand and ask to make point of information (or request information) when it is not his or her turn to speak. This can enable a member to speak (by putting up his/her hand and asking to speak) when it is not his/her turn to request more information on the matter being discussed, or to give more information on a point being discussed. • Out of Order: When an individual is not sticking to meeting procedure, being rude, interjecting or misbehaving in some way, the chairperson might rule him/her out of order. • Protection: A speaker who is being harassed when he/she is speaking can ask for the protection of the chairperson. All these points are called meeting rules, they are there to make meetings more efficient and effective. These rules should not be over-used just for the sake of it.
How to take decisions at meetings
Decisions at a meeting can be taken by consensus or by voting. Consensus means reaching decisions by discussion and general agreement. Voting usually occurs where a particular proposal is put forward by one person, and seconded by another; if the majority of people present accept the proposal, it becomes binding. Voting is done by show of hands or, on rare occasions, by secret ballot. It is usually better to reach consensus than to vote. Reaching consensus often means that there are compromises from everyone but it ensures that most people feel part of the decision. Sometimes a vote does need to be taken, for example in elections or when the meeting cannot reach a decision through consensus. A formal proposal put to the meeting becomes a resolution if accepted (by consensus or voting) by the meeting. A formal proposal should have a proposer and a seconder before discussion is allowed. At the end of the discussion, the proposal may be amended, but each amendment must be accepted separately before the final proposal is put to the meeting for acceptance. The chairperson (and trustees) should study their constitution to avoid discussion on proposals that may be contrary to the provisions of the constitution or non-compliant with any existing legislation. It is pointless and a waste of time to discuss proposals that may turn out to be unconstitutional or illegal. A resolution normally consists of three parts (see example below): • The first part notes the issues under discussion; • The second part lists the points showing your understanding of the issues and its causes; and • The third part is the decision stating what you are going to do or what your policy on the issue will be.
This is very formal, but if a resolution is formulated in this manner, there can be no doubt in future about the background and reasons for the resolution. However, it is not necessary for all decisions to be formulated like this, a fairly routine decision can be simply be minuted by describing what was decided, but it is advisable that the minutes provide some background information giving the main reason or reasons for the decision.
Minutes of the meeting
It is important that minutes be recorded accurately. They are not only a reminder of issues that need to be followed up, but also prevents arguments about previous decisions. Minutes serve as a guide to the chairperson and secretary when drawing up the agenda for the next meeting. There are three aspects to taking good minutes: • Listening – an important skill that often needs to be developed; the person taking the minutes must not only listen to what is said, but must also understand it. • Taking notes – it is impossible to write down everything; write down only main points and decisions taken. Identify the aim of the discussion and use your own words to make notes, this is usually more accurate than trying to write down what the speaker says. Stop the discussion if you want clarification. The chairperson should also make sure that the secretary has the important points down before continuing to the next item. A resolution must be written out in full. • Writing the minutes – the minutes should be kept in a special minutes book. The minutes are not a record of everything that was said, but must contain decisions made, resolutions taken, and include the names of people responsible for specific tasks decided by the meeting. The following information should be included: • Nature of meeting, date, time, venue • Names of those present • Names of visitors • Apologies • Summaries of decisions and discussions
While some of the procedures mentioned above are in your constitution, most of them have developed over the years as accepted procedure to conduct meetings. They may not be described in any law, but they have been accepted by courts as the correct way of conducting meetings. This means that, in terms of common law principles, decisions taken at a meeting can be challenged in court if the correct procedures have not been followed. It is thus important for trustees to ensure that correct procedures are followed at meetings so that there can be no legal challenge to decisions and resolutions taken. Trustee committees will also be much more effective if correct procedures are followed, and meetings will be more productive and run more smoothly. Information here sourced mainly from the Education & Training Unit (ETU) website. » Click here to go to the community organisers section on the ETU website.
Sectional Title Information
Sectional Titles Online
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Paddocks is a specialist Sectional Title firm providing a range of products and services throughout South Africa. Paddocks is headed by Prof. Graham Paddock, an authority on Sectional Title law and practice and an adjunct professor at the University of Cape Town. » Click here to access Paddocks website
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Driving around those circles
|Cape Townians are not used to traffic circles (or roundabouts as they are known in the USA and UK) – that much is obvious when observing the way most drivers negotiate the circles along Grand National Boulevard. The Traffic Department kindly supplied us with these “Rules of the Road” regarding Traffic Circles.
|Slow down when approaching the circle – your speed should be down to 10-15kph, so that you can safely stop for pedestrians or if vehicles are approaching from your right.
|Yield to traffic coming from your right. This everyone seems to know, but many people still arrive at a circle too fast to stop when they see another vehicle and then take a chance and speed up to enter the circle in front of the other vehicle.
|Yield to pedestrians. We have pedestrian crossings at some of our circles, and traffic must yield to pedestrians if the pedestrian is approaching the crossing on the left side, or halfway across from the opposite side. Pedestrians on the crossings have right of way not only when you enter the circle, but also when you exit it. There are Yield for Pedestrian signs at these crossings.
|Signal your intentions. This one nobody seems to bother about, and it causes considerable irritation. Use your indicator on approaching the circle to signal whether you are going to turn left or right at the circle.
|To turn left (taking the first exit): • Signal left and approach in the left lane in a double lane road. • Keep to the left in the circle and continue signalling to leave the circle.
|To go straight on (taking the second exit): • Select the appropriate marked lane, if no markings approach the circle in left lane. • Do not signal when approaching circle. • In a double lane circle you can use either the left (outside) or right (inside) lane. • Signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want.
|To turn right (taking the third or last exit): • Signal right and approach in the right-hand lane in double lane road. • Keep to the right in the circle, taking the right or inside lane until you have to exit the circle. • Signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want. • Watch for traffic in the outside lane before you cross it to exit circle.
|Want to read more about using roundabouts or traffic circles?
|» Click here to go to the relevant Arive Alive website page.
|Pedestrians at circles
|But we also notice that pedestrians are not making it easier for vehicles. An extremely dangerous practice is that people often take a ‘short cut’ and walk directly across a circle instead of using the pavement round the circle. Drivers cannot see them on the other side of the circle and there has been some near accidents.
|The Traffic Department also mentioned that even at a pedestrian crossing, pedestrians must take care. Vehicles cannot stop immediately and pedestrians must not step onto the crossing unless a vehicle is a considerable distance away. The best is to wait at the side of the crossing until the vehicle has stopped before crossing. Remember that while the law states that the vehicle must stop for you, you cannot rely on all drivers to obey the law.
Midges, muggies & mosquitoes
Muggies or midges in Royal Ascot
Muggies, midges, gnats – call them what you like, with warm weather the little flying terrors are out in force. They are a nuisance and many residents in Royal Ascot are severely pestered by these little guys in the summer months.
What are they, and where do they come from?
|Midges, gnats or muggies is a name applied to a wide range of small flies. These are members of the order Diptera (meaning two-winged: di = two, ptera = wings), this is the order to which all flies belong. Midges are not a well-defined group, but are spread throughout at least ten families in the suborder Nematocera. This means that their life-styles and biology differ considerably; some feed on nectar or decomposing plant material, a few feed on blood, and in some species the adults do not feed at all.
|Like all Diptera they have four life stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The larval stage in most midges, with the exception of the gall midges, are aquatic. This means that the eggs are laid in or near water or very moist areas, the larvae are found in the water, in mud in the bottom of rivers, lakes or ponds, or even in very wet leaf mould in forests and other damp places. Some larvae will inhabit wet animal dung. The larval stage for midges vary from only a few days long, to several years in cold climates; the larvae feed on detritus, diatoms and other microscopic plants and animals.
|The larvae turn into pupae, this is mostly a fairly short stage, mostly only two to four days, although there are exceptions where the pupal stage is longer. The pupae do not feed at all.
|The adults will hatch from the pupae, and these are the little fellows that are such a nuisance to us. Most species are completely harmless, but there are some that can cause problems. The gall midges in the family Cecidomyiidae are important plant pests which can affect crops. The biting midges in the family Ceratopogonidae are serious pests and are responsible for spreading livestock diseases like Blue Tongue in cattle and sheep and African Horse Sickness.
|The female biting midges must have a blood meal for their eggs to mature, while feeding they transmit parasites – most of these parasites affect livestock and game, but the midges can infect humans with filarial worms of the genus Mansonella. This infection is not serious as the worms are only located in the skin, but it does cause dermatitis and skin lesions.
|The most common midge or muggie that pesters us here in our area are non-biting midges of the family Chironomidae. There are over 5,000 species occurring all over the world, from the Arctic regions in the north to the Antarctic in the south, the adults are small and resemble mosquitoes – but most of them do not feed at all.
|A distinguishing characteristic of several chironomid species is that the larvae have haemoglobin in their blood, this means that their blood is red – these are often known as bloodworms. They can store oxygen in their blood which allows them to survive in deep water or in water where the oxygen content is low. Many of the local species of chironomid have bloodworm larvae, you can find these larvae quite commonly in ponds and small water bodies in the area.
|While adult chironomids are harmless, they can be pests when they emerge in large numbers. They can damage paint, brick and other surfaces with their droppings, and when they die they build up in piles. Sometimes these piles of dead muggies provoke allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. In most areas chironomids breed once or twice a year, but if conditions are good they can breed up to four times. Each breeding cycle delivers a swarm, so we can have swarms up to four times a year; another factor is that breeding in different water areas are staggered, so one could be suffering a series of swarms from different water bodies, or even from the same water, for a few months at a time.
|While they are a nuisance to us, chironomid larvae and pupae are important as food for fish, amphibians and other aquatic organisms; the adults are a very popular food source for insectivorous birds such as swallows and martins. Chironomid larvae are also useful as an indicator of water quality – the presence or absence of various species is an indication of the quality of the water. Some like the bloodworms become more numerous in polluted waters where oxygen levels are very low, other members of the family are intolerant of poor water quality and will only be found where the water quality is good.
|How do you deal with these pests?
|In the daytime they are a nuisance if you happen to walk into a swarm; the real problem is at night as they are attracted to lights. If they really are a continuous nuisance, the only way to keep them out of your house is to put up mosquito netting. There are insect repellents on the market today that will help, most of these insecticides are specific to insects and will not affect humans or pets in the house; the evaporative repellents (those that are plugged into a wall plug) for mosquitoes are quite effective to keep a room clear of midges.
|And what about mosquitoes?
|Midges are sometimes confused with mosquitoes, but mosquitoes are in the family Culicidae – read more about them ….
|Mosquitoes belong to the Insect order Diptera (meaning two-wings) of which the most well known members are flies – there are about 120 000 species in this order. Mosquitoes are in the family Culicidae which is represented world-wide, the most common species is one of the so-called “house mosquitoes”, Culex pipiens – it occurs on every continent except Antarctica.
|Mosquitoes lay their eggs singly or in rafts on water, preferably water contaminated with organic matter – this could be a pond, or a container with a bit of water in the bottom; some species lay the eggs in very damp soil or in small puddles. The larvae that hatch are air-breathers, breathing from the surface through a siphon at the tail-end; they feed on organic matter in the water. The pupae are lighter and float just beneath the surface breathing through thoracic breathing horns. After hatching the adults will rest on the surface to dry and harden. The stages from egg to adult normally takes about 14 days, but it can be up to 30 days – although in some species it can be as little as 4 days. In colder climates mosquitoes will overwinter in the egg phase, in some instances overwintering takes place in the pupal phase or even as an adult. The adult’s life span can be from two weeks to two months.
|In most species female mosquitoes feed on blood to support the development of their eggs. Culex spp feed on various mammals, including humans, as well as on birds. They feed at night, most often in the evening and at dawn, during the day they will rest somewhere cool, but will bite if disturbed. Mosquitoes usually fly quite close to the ground, their flying speed is only about 1-2 km/h; but they can fly up to 4 hours continuously and can travel up to about 10km in a night. They are not strong flyers, and even moderate winds will blow them long distances.
|Mosquitoes locate their prey through scent; they are extremely sensitive to carbon dioxide in exhaled breath, as well as several substances found in sweat and body odours. Once they get close enough, they use the prey’s body heat to locate it.
|Most mosquitoes can transmit diseases. Each female needs from one to three meals to complete development of one clutch of eggs, and they develop several clutches during a season. Feeding on more than one ‘victim’ transmits disease organisms from one to the other. However, the disease organism must be present in the host animal; at present there are no known major mosquito-borne diseases affecting humans in the Western Cape.
|In the past mosquitoes were controlled by spraying the water bodies they used for breeding with insecticide or oil to kill off the larvae and pupae. But this is also ecologically disastrous if used on ponds and natural water bodies as it kills off all other animals in the water, including the predators that would normally feed on mosquito larvae like dragonfly nymphs, various fish species and frogs. Spraying also has long term negative effects on the environment, and is most definitely not recommended these days.
|Unless disease is a factor, the best way of dealing with a mosquito problem is using repellents or putting up mosquito netting to keep them out of residences. Most repellent insecticides used today are specific to insects and will not in any way affect humans or pets in the house; in particular the evaporative repellents (those that are plugged into a wall plug) are very effective to keep a room clear of mosquitoes.
|And those midges?
|One last word. Mosquitoes are often confused with adult Chironomids, commonly known as midges or ‘miggies’ (‘muggies’). These are not biting flies, but can be a nuisance as they swarm in large numbers; they form swarms day and night and are attracted to lights at night.
Jogging in Royal Ascot
Rats in Royal Ascot
More about rats and rat biology
Two rat species have become closely association with humans. The rat we have in Royal Ascot is Rattus norvegicus, the brown rat – this is one of the largest rat species and while the average size of male adults are about 550g, large individuals can grow up to 900g in size. In spite of its name, Rattus norvegicus originated in northern China and spread into Europe during the 1500’s. By the early 1900’s it had distributed to all continents except Antarctica. The other species associated with man is the black rat, Rattus rattus (although colour can also brown or grey). They most likely originated in eastern Asia, but evidence suggests that they moved into prehistoric Europe after the last Ice Age. However there have been successive introductions through trade routes on land and sea, and today black rats are widely spread in Europe, central and eastern Asia, central and southern North America, and in the coastal areas of other continents. They are not as widespread as the brown rat, and in many areas they have been displaced by brown rats.
Brown rats burrow extensively in a suitable substrate, usually using structures or fixed objects as the roof of their burrows. They are good swimmers, but are poor climbers (unlike the black rat); the brown rat is very sensitive to vibrations and can communicate ultrasonically. They are true omnivores and will eat almost anything, but cereals (like grass seeds) form a substantial part of their diet. They will be attracted to areas where there are food refuse, and they learn quickly and adapt their behaviour to exploit new and easily accessible sources of food. Under suitable conditions they are prolific breeders, females can have up to five litters a year, commonly numbering about 7 per litter (although the litter size can be up to 14). They reach sexual maturity in about 5 weeks, and the maximum life span is about 3 years, but most probably barely survive longer than 1 year in the wild. Brown rats live in large hierarchical groups, and if a large fraction of a rat population is exterminated, the remaining rats will increase their reproduction rate to restore their numbers. Like all rodents, brown rats may carry pathogens that affect humans, but in normal situations where contacts between rats and humans are scarce, transmission of diseases directly from rats to humans is rare. Cats coming into contact with rats may transmit some of these pathogens into homes where they could affect humans. Contrary to popular belief, the brown rat is not responsible for spreading bubonic plague, in fact the two major plague outbreaks in Europe occurred before brown rats arrived there – the black rat, Rattus rattus, was a carrier of the fleas transmitting the bacterium and was most likely responsible for the plague epidemic in the 6th and 7th centuries and the Black Death from 1345 onwards; this epidemic did re-occur during subsequent centuries until the late 1800’s. The bacterium today is endemic in only a few rodents like ground squirrels and wood rats. A last word about Rattus norvegicus – the common white laboratory rat and domesticated rat pets are all Rattus norvegicus that have been bred for man’s specific purposes.