African Rat Covers Itself With Poison to Ward Off Predators

Posted on August 3, 2011

African Crested RatScientists have discovered that the African crested rat applies a poisonous plant toxin to sponge-like hairs on its flanks. The poisonous plant source is the Acokanthera tree. East African hunters also uses this toxin when they make poison arrows.

Scientists have long suspected the rat was poisonous because it exposes a black and white coloring on its flanks when threatened. There have also been accounts of dogs becoming ill or dying after encounters with the rats. The researchers say one of several puzzles about the African crested rat that remain is how the rat uses the poison without succumbing to it.

The study appears online in the Proceedings of The Royal Society B. The authors of the study include Jonathan Kingdon, Chris Holland, Tom Gheysens, Maxime Boulet-Audet, and Fritz Vollrath of the University of Oxford. Bernard Agwanda of the National Museums of Kenya and Margaret Kinnaird and Tim O'Brien of the Wildlife Conservation Society were also authors of the study.

Photo: Susan Rouse

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