Gerbils, Not Rats, May Have Caused Bubonic Plague, Study Finds

You will never look at your pet gerbil the same way again.

— -- Historians have long blamed rats for spreading the plague in Europe nicknamed the "Black Death" in the 14th century, but new research points the finger at a different furry culprit: gerbils.

Stenseth and his team determined the climate hundreds of years ago by examining tree growth rings, according to the study. The authors wrote that a better approach would be to study the DNA gleaned from the remains of plague victims.

"My bottom line is that this is a fascinating new thesis," said Schaffner, who was not involved in the study. "And I think that it likely will result in a lot of controversy among people who are disease historians."

But your pet gerbil won't give you the plague, Stenseth. The animals that spread the plague in Asia was actually a separate, wild species known as a great gerbil, Stenseth said.