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Weird & Wild

Watch a Mother Rat Rescue Her Baby From a Dramatic Snake Attack

A life-and-death encounter reveals how "ferocious" animal mothers can be.

Watch a surprising battle between two wild animals.

Nobody puts mama rat in a corner.

Especially not a hungry snake.

That's the lesson from a battle caught on video in Naples, Italy, last week. The footage shows a snake carrying off a baby rat, or pup, only to be attacked by the pup's mother.

Things end well for the rats, this time.

"Rats can be pretty ferocious, they are predators themselves and can kill things," says Dana Krempels, a biologist who studies small mammals at the University of Miami.

"It's a good thing rats aren't bigger, or we would be in trouble," she says. "They are also very intelligent."

The snake—which looks like it might be a type of non-venomous racer according to Krempels—probably wasn't big enough or tough enough to safely battle the adult rat, so it gave up without too much of a fight. (Watch a mother rabbit fight off a snake.)

"The mama had a lot more to lose than the snake did," Krempels adds. "Half of her genes were wandering away, and all he's going to lose is his lunch."

Still, the snake's attack was a bit unusual. Normally, snakes try to consume their prey immediately. They don't often carry it off first unless they are disturbed.

And although animals may try to disembowel snakes , Krempels says it's not clear the mother rat was necessarily targeting her attack.

"She was just grabbing whatever she could grab," she says. "She may have thought, 'Hey, that's my baby!'" (See how rats show regret for their choices.)

Life is tough for young animals. Studies have estimated cottontails only live an average of about two weeks, when high mortality inside the nest is taken into account. It's probably something similar for rats, Krempels says, even though the rodents are intelligent and even empathetic.

One study found that lab rats tried to help each other escape, instead of going for chocolate.

"Just because rats are small doesn't mean they are wimpy," says Krempels. "I would run away from a cornered rat."

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