Gerbils could have reimported the bacteria along the Silk Road.
They’re known for being cute pets, but gerbils may have a dark past.
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The seemingly innocuous furry friends could have been the real carriers of the Black Death from Asia to Europe in the 14th century, which went on to kill millions of people over four centuries.
A new study by researchers at Norway’s University of Oslo clears the oft-accused black rat and shifts blame to gerbils from central Asia.
It suggests that the Yersinia pestis bacteria, which causes the the bubonic plague, was continuously reimported into Europe instead of persisting in rodent reservoirs throughout the continent.
Researchers examined tree-ring records to determine what climate conditions were like during the time when the plague was prevalent. They discovered climate conditions in Europe were not in line with those needed for a rat-driven outbreak, but conditions were optimum in Asia for gerbils and fleas to thrive.
The study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also suggests that the land and sea trading routes of the Silk Road were the likely conduits for the plague.
But there’s no need to look at your wheel-running pet gerbil any differently, they’ve been long free of the plague.
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