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Rodents of Unusual Size? I don’t think they exist

A man in London claims to have found a rat ‘the size of a small child’, near a children’s play area in Hackney, London. Alongside a photograph of gas engineer Tony Smith proudly displaying the gigantic creature held in the jaws of a litter picking stick, some news outlets have reported the claim that the rat was “about four foot long”.

Photograph: Tony Smith/SWNS

Photograph: Tony Smith/SWNS

Luckily, mathematicians are here to save the day! Firstly, there’s no way it’s four feet long, as this rigorous analysis shows – estimating the height of the man as 180cm, and using the respective lengths of two of his visible fingers and the width of the litter picker at each end to estimate the effect of perspective:

Furthermore, several other people have successfully managed to recreate the effect of holding something relatively small up in a photo, putting it nearer the camera, and making it look much bigger, including The Guardian’s new formats editor Martin Belam, and in one brilliant case, an employee of Hackney council:

The message to the maths outreach community is that if we try really, really hard, we should eventually be able to get people to understand the thing where closer objects look bigger, although it may take more staring at model cows and pointing at cows out the window than was previously hoped.

More Information

Giant rat ‘the size of a small child’ found near Hackney playground, in the London Evening Standard

How to fake a giant rat (and why you shouldn’t trust pictures on the internet), on The Guardian

Hackney council made a wonderful response to that ‘rat as big as a 4-year-old’ story, at The Poke