An exciting area of study is the way various animals protect themselves against would-be predators. We find one of the most unusual methods in the African crested rat (Lophiomys imhausi), also known as the maned rat. It’s the world’s only poisonous rodent.
Crested rats have a white-bordered mane that extends from the top of the head to the base of the tail. Their body can be up to 14 inches (360 mm) long, or 21 inches (530 mm) if you include the tail. They would make a very nice meal for a wild dog or hyena if they didn’t have a poison defense system.
Crested rats chew the bark of the poison arrow tree (Acokanthera schimperi). They spit out the chewed matter and rub it on the coarse fur of their mane. When threatened, the rat’s mane stands erect, so the poison is the first thing a predator will contact. The toxin is strong enough to kill a wild dog or hyena.
Researchers studying crested rats report that their behavior demonstrates that they are aware of their poisonous nature. It seems to be built into the DNA of these animals to know how to secure the toxin. Animals such as skunks produce their own noxious chemicals for defense, but they are not poisonous. Scientists have not found any other mammal that collects poison from a plant species and stores it for protection. Crested rats depend on the poison arrow tree and don’t seem to be harmed by the poison.
How does the world’s only poisonous rodent develop such a tool for survival? We see God’s design over and over in animal behavior and the tools that they know how to use.
— John N. Clayton © 2020