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Rats! (or the curious lack thereof in Alberta, Canada)

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We got the following note from a reader named Cindy Karpiak:

I want you guys to research why Alberta (Canada) spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to be christened a "rat-free province". There's numerous websites addressing the issue, and the fact that it is illegal to own rats even as pets in Alberta. I don't get all the fuss. ... We're looking at moving back to Alberta and wondering just how easy it will be to smuggle [our pet rats] in, or is the air treated so that they die on contact with Alberta air, perhaps there are there rat cops waiting for me at the border?

Indeed there are numerous websites on Alberta's longstanding aversion to rats (that's a mid-century Albertan propaganda poster pictured above), and what we could glean from the best of them is after the jump. (Apparently, it all goes back to the Black Plague.) We get the feeling, however, that Cindy already knows all of it, and what she wants is for us to start the Great Alberta Rat Revolution. No can do, but allow us three small recommendations:

1. Buy a degu. For now, at least, these rat-like creatures are still legal in Alberta. (You could apply for a rat permit instead, but you'd have to open your own zoo or research center to qualify.)

2. Read a novel. The Dominion of Wylie McFadden revolves around one man's quest to smuggle his favorite rodents into Alberta (take notes!)

3. Move to India. The Jain temple at Deshnok devoted to the full-time worship of Rattus rattus; like this Crazy Rat Man's house, it's home to thousand-strong hordes of the little guys.

Here's what the Alberta government has to say for itself:

Norway rats were first discovered on a farm near Alsask on the eastern border of Alberta during the summer of 1950. The discovery was made by field crews from Alberta Department of Health, engaged in studies of sylvatic plague, a disease of Richardson's ground squirrel. Although they were aware of the economic destruction caused by rats, provincial authorities were initially concerned that rats might spread plague throughout Alberta. Consequently, the Alberta government decided to halt or at least slow the spread of rats to the west. In 1950, responsibility for rat control was transferred from Alberta Department of Health to the Department of Agriculture. ...

Most people in Alberta had had no contact with rats and did not know what rats looked like or how to control them. Consequently, the government's initial response was to educate the public and obtain support from local governments and residents.

Preserved rat specimens were distributed to Alberta Agriculture offices to aid in the identification of rats in the 1950s. In 1951, five provincial employees whose primary responsibility was weed inspection, provided training and assistance to municipal pest control inspectors. Personnel from Saskatchewan Department of Health, familiar with rats and rat control, also assisted with training. Conferences on rat control were held in six towns in eastern Alberta and 2,000 posters and 1,500 mimeographed pamphlets, Rat Control In Alberta, 1951, were distributed to elevators, railway stations, schools, post offices and private citizens.

Rat Control In Alberta, 1951 advocated destruction of rats, elimination of rat harborages and food supplies, and rat-proofing of buildings principles which are still valid and basic for rat control today. Recommended toxicants were red squill, antu, barium carbonate, zinc phosphide, 1080, thallium sulfate, arsenic, strychnine alkaloid and warfarin. Warfarin, the first anticoagulant rodent poison, was still a new and relatively untried toxicant in 1951.

Warfarin was developed in Wisconsin, where finely-ground corn was the recommended bait substrate. However, corn was not normally available to rats in Alberta and bait acceptance was poor. A series of field trials during 1953 to 1955 showed that coarsely-rolled oats gave satisfactory results; this bait substrate is still used today. The amount of bait used in the control program increased annually until about 1958 and then leveled off with the yearly requirements varying between 5,000 and 13,000 kg of dry warfarin bait and between 660 and 4,750 litres of water-soluble warfarin.

Public education and information continued. Posters and brochures on rat control were widely distributed, displays were presented at local fairs, picnics and rodeos, and talks were presented to schools, 4-H clubs, agricultural societies, Chambers of Commerce, and to just about anyone who would listen. "Call of the Land," an Alberta Agriculture agricultural news program began broadcasting in 1953 and was used to disseminate information on rat control. Public interest and support for rat control was favorable, particularly from people who had rats. As an example, seven meetings were attended by almost 900 people in the Medicine Hat area during February 1956. However, there was some resistance. One mayor refused to cooperate because he thought the program was a red herring initiated by the ruling political party. Another mayor refused to believe that rats would threaten his town and stated that he would eat any rats within the town limits. He subsequently changed his mind when presented with a bushel of rats from a local abatoir. ...

After 1959, the number of infestations dropped dramatically; numbers vary between 36 and 216 per year (Figure 3). Surprisingly, overland transportation of rats has not been a major problem, with no more than eight infestations reported in any one year. Most infestations within the interior of Alberta consist of a single rat transported by truck or rail.

A few white rats have been brought in by pet stores, biology teachers, and well-meaning individuals who did not know that it was unlawful to have rats in Alberta. The white rat or laboratory rat is a domesticated Norway rat. If white rats escaped captivity or were turned loose, they could multiply and spread throughout Alberta just like the wild Norway rat. Consequently, white rats can only be kept by zoos, universities and colleges, and recognized research institutions in Alberta. Private citizens may not keep white rats, hooded rats or any of the strains of domesticated Norway rats.

Perhaps the greatest "problem" is that most residents of Alberta still cannot identify rats and rat signs. Hundreds of suspected infestations are reported each year by concerned citizens, but most turn out to be muskrats, pocket gophers, ground squirrels, bushy-tailed wood rats or mice.

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Space
Google Street View Now Lets You Explore the International Space Station

Google Street View covers some amazing locations (Antarctica, the Grand Canyon, and Stonehenge, to name a few), but it’s taken until now for the tool to venture into the final frontier. As TechCrunch reports, you can now use Street View to explore the inside of the International Space Station.

The scenes, photographed by astronauts living on the ISS, include all 15 modules of the massive satellite. Viewers will be treated to true 360-degree views of the rooms and equipment onboard. Through the windows, you can see Earth from an astronaut's perspective and a SpaceX Dragon craft delivering supplies to the crew.

Because the imagery was captured in zero gravity, it’s easy to lose sense of your bearings. Get a taste of what ISS residents experience on a daily basis here.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock
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travel
6 East Coast Castles to Visit for a Fairy Tale Road Trip
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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

Once the stuff of fairy tales and legends, a variety of former castles have been repurposed today as museums and event spaces. Enough of them dot the East Coast that you can plan a summer road trip to visit half a dozen in a week or two, starting in or near New York City. See our turrent-rich itinerary below.

STOP 1: BANNERMAN CASTLE // BEACON, NEW YORK

59 miles from New York City

The crumbling exterior of Bannerman Castle
Garrett Ziegler, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bannerman Castle can be found on its very own island in the Hudson River. Although the castle has fallen into ruins, the crumbling shell adds visual interest to the stunning Hudson Highlands views, and can be visited via walking or boat tours from May to October. The man who built the castle, Scottish immigrant Frank Bannerman, accumulated a fortune shortly after the Civil War in his Brooklyn store known as Bannerman’s. He eventually built the Scottish-style castle as both a residence and a military weapons storehouse starting in 1901. The island remained in his family until 1967, when it was given to the Taconic Park Commission; two years later it was partially destroyed by a mysterious fire, which led to its ruined appearance.

STOP 2. GILLETTE CASTLE STATE PARK // EAST HADDAM, CONNECTICUT

116 miles from Beacon, New York

William Gillette was an actor best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, which may have something to do with where he got the idea to install a series of hidden mirrors in his castle, using them to watch guests coming and going. The unusual-looking stone structure was built starting in 1914 on a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. Gillette designed many of the castle’s interior features (which feature a secret room), and also installed a railroad on the property so he could take his guests for rides. When he died in 1937 without designating any heirs, his will forbade the possession of his home by any "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The castle is now managed by the State of Connecticut as Gillette Castle State Park.

STOP 3. BELCOURT CASTLE // NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

74 miles from East Haddam, Connecticut

The exterior of Belcourt castle
Jenna Rose Robbins, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt designed Belcourt Castle for congressman and socialite Oliver Belmont in 1891. Hunt was known for his ornate style, having designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, but Belmont had some unusual requests. He was less interested in a building that would entertain people and more in one that would allow him to spend time with his horses—the entire first floor was designed around a carriage room and stables. Despite its grand scale, there was only one bedroom. Construction cost $3.2 million in 1894, a figure of approximately $80 million today. But around the time it was finished, Belmont was hospitalized following a mugging. It took an entire year before he saw his completed mansion.

STOP 4. HAMMOND CASTLE MUSEUM // GLOUCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS

111 miles from Newport, Rhode Island

Part of the exterior of Hammond castle
Robert Linsdell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built his medieval-style castle between 1926 and 1929 as both his home and a showcase for his historical artifacts. But Hammond was not only interested in recreating visions of the past; he also helped shape the future. The castle was home to the Hammond Research Corporation, from which Hammond produced over 400 patents and came up with the ideas for over 800 inventions, including remote control via radio waves—which earned him the title "the Father of Remote Control." Visitors can take a self-guided tour of many of the castle’s rooms, including the great hall, indoor courtyard, Renaissance dining room, guest bedrooms, inventions exhibit room, library, and kitchens.

STOP 5. BOLDT CASTLE // ALEXANDRIA BAY, THOUSAND ISLANDS, NEW YORK

430 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts

It's a long drive from Gloucester and only accessible by water, but it's worth it. The German-style castle on Heart Island was built in 1900 by millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, who created the extravagant structure as a summer dream home for his wife Louise. Sadly, she passed away just months before the place was completed. The heartbroken Boldt stopped construction, leaving the property empty for over 70 years. It's now in the midst of an extensive renovation, but the ballroom, library, and several bedrooms have been recreated, and the gardens feature thousands of plants.

STOP 6. FONTHILL CASTLE // DOYLESTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

327 miles from Alexandria Bay, New York

Part of the exterior of Fonthill castle

In the mood for more castles? Head south to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Fonthill Castle was the home of the early 20th century American archeologist, anthropologist, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer. Mercer was a man of many interests, including paleontology, tile-making, and architecture, and his interest in the latter led him to design Fonthill Castle as a place to display his colorful tile and print collection. The inspired home is notable for its Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, and with 44 rooms, there's plenty of well-decorated nooks and crannies to explore.

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