Oftentimes I’m not sure of what animal I’m going to blog about until the day of my post. I have a number of solutions to this problem. One is to simply search Google for an animal extreme – for example, largest snake, or smallest mammal. Another thing I do is go to one of my favourite sites (http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/) and look at what animal they have on the home page. But most often I simply flip through my vast collection of animal books until I see something that looks cool. That’s what I did today, and while scanning one of the volumes of my Encyclopedia of Mammals, I stumbled across the maned rat, which definitely looks weird. So I decided to write about it!
Maned rats are members of the family Muridae, which includes mice and rats, but the maned rat is so strange that it’s been placed in its own subfamily, Lophiomyinae. They are found in eastern Africa, from the Sudan to Tanzania. Maned rats live in wooded areas, mainly in the highlands but really will live wherever they can find suitable shelter (usually burrows, rocks or dead tree trunks).
Maned rats look a little like porcupines, although their hairs aren’t sharp and dangerous. They do have some special functions though, one of which is instrumental in the rat’s protection. The hairs in the maned rat’s mane are long and can be erected when the rat is threatened or excited. When they are erect, the mane exposes a glandular area on the rat’s back. The hairs in the glandular area are super absorbent, and act like sponges. The maned rat rubs these hairs against the of the plant Acokanthera schimperi, which coats the hairs. The bark contains a nasty poison which makes any unwary predator sick or dead if they try and take a bite out of the rat. Pretty neat trick, right? These glands also secrete an unpleasant odour, like that of skunks, to warn predators away. I’d definitely leave a maned rat alone. There’s got to be easier meals out there for hungry animals.
Maned rats definitely need good protection; they are slow moving and fairly small, only growing to 21 inches including the tail. They are good climbers, although they do this pretty slowly too. They are nocturnal, and feed on fruits and other plant material. Aside from that, we really don’t know a whole lot about maned rats. We know that somehow they reproduce, because the species exists. And we know that maned rats have babies, because they emerge from the rat’s burrows, with all their lovely hair. Everything else is still a mystery, as far as I know.
The maned rat is not an endangered species, which means not a lot of funding is given to research on the species. Which is good news for the maned rat, but not so good for me, who’s trying to write about them. Still, what we do know about them is pretty interesting, and I’m glad I read about them!