Scientists in Germany say the black rat is back, in higher numbers than ever before.They say Rattus rattus is now widespread even in areas where it was thought to be extinct. The black rat, also known as the ship?s rat, spread bubonic plague through Europe in medieval times.

Researchers from the Zoological Institute at Cologne University say the black rat population in Germany has been underestimated because damage is automatically blamed on the more aggressive, and more common, brown rat. The plague in Europe finally ended when brown rats, which do not carry plague, drove out the black rats.

The latest statistics from the Berlin health department say the rat population has exploded due to a mild winter, with nine million of them living in city sewers, parks, gardens and the subway.

Attacks on humans rose 50% last year, to a total of 4,485. People have reported rats coming up through their toilets and eating through apartment walls. They have been seen as high up as the 17th floor of a tall building. One pair can produce up to 800 offspring in a single year.

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