At first glance, like so many major innovators in the history of the world, this rat looks no different from any other. But that’s because you’re looking at his photograph rather than encountering him in the wild as a predator.
Instead of being a man or woman reading a screen, if you were a hungry mammal on the savannas of northeast Africa, you would do well to avoid eating this very clever creature. Why? Because he has discovered unique secret to a living a longer life in the wild. The secret? By eating a poison root and then, rather than swallowing it, slathering it all over a particular part of his fur that can retain the poison for long periods of time. Any predator that attempts a bite of this rat will also, unwittingly, take a taste of evil—fatally evil.
This astonishing feat of poisoning its own fur with tongueloads of poison was necessary to its survival because the African Crested Rat is, sad to say, a slow mover. So when jackals, leopards and wild cats rush to eat it, this rat can’t outrun them. But he can outfox them.
To read all about this newly-discovered phenomenon, I urge you to enjoy a brief excursion to the one section of the BBC I trust (as I do not trust the BBC’s international coverage), the science news section, with an extraordinary report by science writer Rebecca Morelle, that even includes a vivid video of the clever rat in action. Her story is based on a paper just published by the Britain’s Royal Society’s Biological Sciences division, whose lead author is Jonathan Kingdon, of the Department of Zoology at Oxford.
Perhaps a reader can discern an Aesop-like lesson we can all learn from this life-loving mammal.
My own take is this: those who are not fleet of foot must be sharp in intellect to defeat those who would eat them alive.