Rats, long believed to be the scourge that brought the Black Death to 14th-century Europe, may not be the disease-bearing scoundrels we thought they were.
Scientists have shifted blame for the medieval pandemic responsible for millions of deaths to a new furry menace: giant gerbils from Asia.
“Climate-driven outbreaks of Yersinia petis in Asian rodent plague reservoirs are significantly associated with new waves of plague arriving into Europe through its maritime trade network with Asia,” write the authors of a report inProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The University of Oslo researchers, working with Swiss government scientists, say a “pulse” of strains arrived sporadically from Asia. They posit the Yersinia petis bacterium was likely carried over the Silk Road via fleas on the giant gerbils during intermittent warm spells.