Giant poison rat has predators by the short hairs

August 3, 2011, 10:10 pm

African crested rat

The New Scientist reported today on the a study describing the first use of plant poison by a non-human mammal for self-protection.  The foot-long African crested rat chews the bark of the Acokanthera plant and then spreads saliva over specialized short hairs hidden in its fur. The bark contains ouabain, a cardiac glycoside that inhibits the Na+/K+-ATPase pump. This is the same poison used by some hunters to make poison arrows. According to one of the researchers:

“. . . the findings tally with reports that when attacked, the rat stands its ground, parts its fur to reveal the stripe of poisonous hair, and invites the aggressor to bite its flank. Aggressors who do go in for the kill have been seen to shrink back, froth at the mouth and often collapse and die, apparently from heart failure.”

The rat itself, for reasons not yet known, seems immune to the poison.

The following is a short video of the rat chewing Acokanthera bark and applying the poison saliva to its body:

[The photograph of the African crested rat is from wikipedia.org]

One Comment:

  1. Frank Paloucek Says:

    Remember the hoopla when the pitohui bird was discovered…first “oisonous” bird. Turns out the poison source might be beetles in the birds diet. We need a term for these tox-wannabes.