Arxiu d'etiquetes: slow loris

The problem of wild animals as pets

Although the first animals we think of as life partners are dogs or cats, the truth is that unfortunately many people decide to have a wild or exotic animal at home. Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, sugar gliders, fennec foxes, meerkats, raccoons, monkeys… Is it possible to have a wild animal in good condition at home? What are the issues we can find? What wild mammals do people have as pets? We invite you to continue reading to find out.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A DOMESTIC ANIMAL AND A WILD ONE?

A domestic animal is an animal that has lived with humans for thousands of years. During the history of our species we have artificially selected these animals to obtain benefits, such as food, companionship or protection, like dogs, which have even co-evolved with us. Most domestic animals could not survive in the wild, as they would not know how to find food or would be easy prey for predators. Those who survive when abandoned, like some dogs or cats, cause serious problems to wildlife or even people.

 lobo perro dog wolf perro lobo
Some domestic animals, such as certain dog breeds (right), resemble their wild counterparts (wolf, left), which gives rise to the false idea that wild animals can be domesticated. Photo: unknown

And a wild animal? Many people confuse wild animal with ferocious or dangerous animal. A wild animal is an animal that has not been domesticated, that is, its species has not been in contact with people (at least not for thousands of years as the domestic ones). The fact that some wild animals are not dangerous (or not at all) for us, that they appear in series and movies, some celebrities own them and the desire to have a “special” animal at home, continues favoring the purchase-sale of these animals as pets.

monkey mono capuchino marcel ross friends
The character of Ross in the world-famous series ‘Friends’ had a capuchin monkey, which has to be donated when it reaches sexual maturity for aggressive behavior. Source

WHAT PROBLEMS DOES IMPLY TO HAVE A WILD ANIMAL AT HOME?

PROBLEMS FOR PEOPLE

The main reason why wild or exotic animals cause problems for humans is the lack of knowledge of the species: some have very specific diets that are practically impossible to reproduce in captivity. Others may live longer than the owner, be very noisy, occupy a lot of space, have nocturnal habits, transmit diseases or be poisonous. This results in maintenance difficulties and changes in  the behavior of the animal, until it becomes dangerous for its owner. The consequence is usually the abandonment of the animal, which will cause death, cause problems in nature or very high maintenance costs if they end up in a wildlife rescue center (according to Fundació Mona, keeping a chimpanzee costs 7,000 euros a year. Their life expectancy is 60 years: 420,000 euros in total for a single animal).

Raccoons undergo behavioral changes and may attack their owners. Source

Many species released in the wild end up being invasive, endangering the native ecosystems. If you want to know the difference between introduced and invasive species, read this post. To know the threats they pose to ecosystems, visit this post.

Do not forget that the purchase, sale and possession of many wild animals is totally illegal.

PROBLEMS FOR ANIMALS

Animals must live in an environment where their needs, both physical and mental, can be met. Although we put all our good intentions, give love and spend money keeping a wild animal, we  will never be able to reproduce their natural conditions. Lack of space, contact with other animals of their species, time searching for food, temperature conditions, humidity, light… the animal can not develop its normal behavior even if it is in the most optimal conditions of captivity.

The consequences that will suffer an animal that has not met their needs implies health problems (diseases, growth deficit…) and behavior (stereotypic-compulsive movements, self-injury, anxiety, aggression…).

A fennec fox, a carnivorous animal of the desert, in an evident state of illness. According to social networks, because he was being fed a vegan diet. According to its owner, Sonia Sae, because it is allergic to pollen despite following a vegan diet. Be that as it may, it is clear that the pollen amounts in Sahara have nothing to do with those of Europe. Source

Finally, the most serious consequence when we acquire a wild animal is that we are favoring the trafficking of animals, the death of thousands of them during transport to our house and even their extinction. Animal trafficking is the second cause of biodiversity loss on our planet, behind the destruction of habitats.

Slow loris are nocturnal and poisonous animals that are marketed as pets and, like mostof them, are transported under terrible conditions. Learn more about the calvary of slow lories visiting blognasua. Photo: Naturama

EXAMPLES OF WILD MAMMALS AS PETS

PRIMATES

Marmosets, slow loris, lar gibbons, chimpanzees, Barbary macaques… The list of primates that people have in captivity is almost infinite. One of the main mistakes people make when they want a primate as a pet is to believe that they have our same needs, especially in superior primates such as chimpanzees. Its expressions are also confused with ours: what the photo shows is not a smile of happiness and what the video shows is not tickling, but an attitude of defense (slow loris have poison in their elbows).

This chimpanzee is not smiling, he is scared. Photo: Photos.com

Many primates live in family groups and the offspring need to be with the mother the first years of life, so that just the simple fact of acquiring a little primate entails the death of all the adults of their family group and psychological problems for the animal. To know the extensive and serious problem of keeping primates in captivity, we strongly recommend reading this post.

SUGAR GLIDERS

Sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps) resemble a squirrel, but in fact they are marsupials. They have a very specific diet (insects and their depositions, eucalyptus sap, nectar …), they live in the canopy of trees in groups from 6 to 10 individuals and move between the trees jumping up to 50 meters with a membrane that let them hover. They are nocturnal so they yell and call at night. It is evident that it is impossible to reproduce these conditions in captivity, so the majority of sugar gliders die due to nutritional deficiencies.

Sugar glider caged. Photo: FAADA

VIETNAMESE POT-BELLIED PIGS

Although they are a variety of a domestic animal, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs (Sus scrofa domestica) are small when tey are young, but adults can weigh more than 100 kilos, so it is impossible to keep them in a flat. There have been so many abandonments and they have reproduced so much, that there are populations established in nature. They can reproduce with wild boars and it is unknown if the hybrids are fertile. There are no wildlife recovery centers or shelters for these pigs, so they continue to affect the native ecosystems.

Since actor George Clooney introduced a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig as a pet, the trend to own one quickly spread. Source

RACCOONS AND COATIS

Other mammals that, because of their pleasant appearance, some people try to have as pets. Raccoons (Procyon sp) develop aggressive behaviors when they do not having their needs covered, they are destructive to household objects and have a tendency to bite everything, including people. Currently in Spain and other countries it is illegal to acquire them and it is classified as an invasive species.

In addition to aggressiveness, one of the most common behaviors of raccoons is “theft”. Source

Coatis (Nasua sp) are related to raccoons and, like them, when they grow up they become aggressive if kept in captivity in a home. In Spain, their possession is also illegal.

coatí nasua
The coati, another friendly-looking mammal that can be dangerous. Source

MERKAATS

Merkaats (Suricata suricatta) are very social animals that live in colonies of up to 30 individuals underground in the South African savanna. They usually make holes in the ground to protect themselves and are very territorial. Therefore, having a meerkat at home or in a garden is totally unfeasible. In addition, the climatic conditions (high temperatures and low humidity) in which they are adapted are not the same as those of a private home.

As sugar gliders, their food is impossible to reproduce at home: snake meat, spiders, scorpions, insects, birds and small mammals… Like raccoons, they do not hesitate to bite and are very active animals.

Meerkat with a leash where you can see his fangs. Photo: FAADA

FENNEC FOX

This species of desert fox (Vulpes zerda) has also become trendy as a pet. Although its tenure is still legal, it has been proposed several times as an invasive species.

The main reason why you can not have a fennec at home are the desert climatic conditions to which it is adapted. Living in an apartment causes kidney problems and thermoregulation problems. Also, it is a nocturnal animal. Changes in their circadian rhythm cause them hormonal problems.

Fennec  fox in the desert. Photo: Cat Downie / Shutterstock

Like the previous two species, behavioral problems can turn up and become violent against the furniture or its owners.

ELEPHANTS, TIGERS …

Although it may seem incredible, there are people who have an elephant in the home garden and other people have felines, like tigers. At this point we do not think it is necessary to explain the reasons why these animals have not their needs met and the potential danger they pose to their owners and neighbors in case of escape.

Dumba, the elephant that lives in a home garden in Spain. Photo: FAADA

IN CONCLUSION

As we have seen, a wild animal in captivity will never have its needs covered to guarantee its welfare. Here we have presented the best known wild mammals that are kept as pets, but unfortunately the list does not stop expanding.

In order not to favor animal trafficking and cause unnecessary suffering during the life of the animal, avoid buying wild animals, inform yourself and inform the people around you, denounce irresponsible tenures and in case you already have one wild animal as a pet and you can no longer keep it, contact a recovery wildlife center and never abandon it into nature.

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Reasons to have captive primates (or maybe not!)

These days there is a lot of controversy in Spain because of the TV program Vaya Fauna” in Telecinco, in which captive non-domestic animals show their abilities. Leaving aside the training methods that suffer these animals, like in a previous post by Marc Arenas, Reasons to watch marine mammals in captivity (or maybe not), in this post we will talk about the consequences of keeping primates in captivity, especially great apes, and what is in your hands to preserve your closest relatives, all of them endangered.

MONKEYS SEEM HAPPY INTERACTING WITH US

Surely you’ve ever been to the zoo and have observed human behavior mockery to chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. People laughing, pounding his chest, imitating vocalizations. They are responded by chimpanzees, so we believe is an imitation game.

Humans have a tendency to humanize everything, that is, to perceive the reactions of others as human beings, which is not usually related. In the primate communication, the look is very powerful, sometimes intimidating. Who does not look the other way in the elevator when we are with a neighbor? This also happens with gorillas: staring look into their eyes is to them an aggression, so you can suppose the stress of feeling threatened by hundreds of visitors at a zoo watching at you every day. What we interpret as a smile, in which the animal bares his teeth, is actually a gesture of fear or tension. What we interpret as a game or insult, like throwing feces against the glass, it is also a sign of discomfort and stress.

chimpancé riendo, chimpancé miedo, asustado, estres
This chimpanzee is not laughing, he’s scared. Photo: Photos.com

The typical gesture of striking the breast, it is actually a demonstration of strength and health, which can lead to tense situations such as that experienced by this family at the zoo in Omaha when her daughter beat his chest in front of a silverback (male gorilla):

IN ZOOS THE FACILITIES ARE MORE NATURALIZED NOWADAYS

It is true that the trend in zoos is increasingly to mimic the conditions that they could have in nature, with green spaces, logs or ropes to climb, according to species. But primates enjoy these conditions a few hours a day, specifically when zoos are open to the public. At night or in adverse weather conditions, many zoo animals live in cages smaller than the display area without any natural setting.

Most great apes are social and have well-established group hierarchies in nature. In captivity, family groups tend to be artificial because the animals are from different origins, in addition to cases where there is overcrowding (too animals in the same facility) or they are kept isolated in cages with tiny dimensions. In case of conflict within a group, animals do not have enough space to keep their distance and avoid future tensions.

Gorilasbuscando alimento en el Parque Natural de los Volcanes, Ruanda. Foto de Philip Kromer.
Foraging gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Picture by Philip Kromer.

They are also deprived of natural behaviors such as foraging. In the case of lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), they can travel several kilometers a day searching for food (mainly shoots, but also fruit and some insects) and never sleep two consecutive nights in the same place. Enrichment plans in zoo are essential to occupy their free time available.

Inappropriate behavior of some visitors does the rest (hitting glass, shouts, pictures with flash, food, excessive influx of public ).

IT HAS EDUCATIONAL AND CONSERVATIONAL VALUE

As in the case of marine mammals, investigations in captive primates do not allow reliable conclusions about the biology and behavior of animals due to the artificial conditions in which they live. In zoos, primates are not animals used in performances or in educational visits to the general public, in other centers, the information given about them is poor and biased in favor of the show or simple display of the animal to the public. The reintroduction of primates in the wild is very complex. The captive breeding programs that are implemented increasingly in zoos for conservation reasons, often produce animals for exhibition and not to release into the natural environment, for lack of means or interest.

THEY ARE ADORABLE AS PETS

The fact that an animal may seem to us nice-looking or share more than 90% of genes with us, does not mean that it will have same needs. These needs usually are not known by people who acquire a primate as a pet, causing them health problems both physical and psychological, including death.

Most come from illegal trade, which means that to capture a baby, hunters have to kill several members of its family, especially in the case of great apes that will protect their offspring to death.

The most famous orphan primate was undoubtedly Snowflake, the only albino gorilla known to date. In this case, his entire family was murdered in 1966 by entering banana and coffee plantations in the jungle of Nko, Equatorial Guinea. Snowflake was sold to Jordi Sabater Pi by 15,000 pesetas in Barcelona and was raised in an apartment in the first 11 months. Then was moved to Barcelona Zoo where he became a symbol of the city and lived there the rest of his life.

Copito de nieve, floquet de neu, gorila, snowflake, zoo de barcelona
Snowflake on an inside installation. Photo taken from blog Sigur Rós.

Small primates are also victims of illegal trade, which has increased because of the presence of videos on the Internet about how “adorable” are marmosets or loris (Nycticebus) according to a study published in PLoS ONE. Besides many species are endangered, as we saw in a previous post slow lorises are the only poisonous primate in the world, so they are mutilated without anesthesia (they cut them teeth, claws) before sale, which provoke sometimes deadly infections. The study found only in Indonesia 15,000 loris enter the illegal market per year, not counting those who die before. To that evidence must be added the death of the mother and/or entire families. They are sold with a few months of life, when in the wild spend the first 14 months with its mother, so their emotional and nutritional needs will never be covered.

loris, venta, ilegal, trade
Loris from Sumatra to sell crammed in a cage without food or water, in daylight (they are nocturnal). Photo by The Little Fireface Project.

It is estimated that the illegal trade in wildlife is worth more than 19 billion dollars annually, equivalent or above the illegal trade in drugs and weapons. In addition to pets, many primates living in zoos come from seizures, like Coco gorilla at Barcelona Zoo.

The Primates order is protected by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), so trade is banned or highly regulated. In Spain for example, they can’t be kept in particular installations.

THEY ARE VERY SMART AND CAN DO THINGS LIKE US

Another clear case of humanization is forcing primates to represent situations taking them as natural and easy to learn for them,  like walking upright, cycling and other stunts that are fortunately seen less and less in circuses, movies, commercials or sets of TV.

We have already discussed the origin and living conditions (often unhealthy) of these animals. We won’t go into detail about how they are trained, based on negative reinforcement (deprivation of food, company, beatings, imprisonment…) or stress levels to which they are subjected between spotlights, people and noise. Primatologist Sarah Baeckler conducted a study in 2002 on the status and conditions of these animals. What happens to them when they do not serve to act? They are abandoned, and in lucky cases recovered in sanctuaries or recovery centers, such as Mona Foundation in Catalunya or the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center, the largest sanctuary for chimpanzees in Africa promoted by Dr. Jane Goodall. This video of the emotional release and history of the chimpanzee Wounda by Rebecca Atencio and Jane Goodall went viral:

CONSEQUENCES BEFORE AND AFTER THE FAME”

Chimpanzees are the most commonly apes used for this kind of shows. According to studies, such as the one by the University of Kent (2011), primates end with psychological problems such as:

  • Self harm and mutilation
  • Bone fractures and wounds
  • Psychomotor deficit
  • Malnutrition
  • Development problems
  • Abnormal behaviors such as ingestion of feces and urine
  • Repetitive movements with no function (stereotyping)
  • Decreased gestures to communicate with each other
  • Hyperaggression
  • Social phobia, fear, agoraphobia (phobia of open spaces and agglomerates
  • Apathy
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Despression
  • Inability to its development in conditions of freedom
Campaña "Los animales no son payasos" de Acção Animal and Liga Portuguesa dos Direitos do Animal (LDPA).
“Animals are not clowns” campaign by Acção Animal y Liga Portuguesa dos Direitos do Animal (LDPA).

So they have the same consequences as any human can suffer in the same situation. We share 96.9% of our DNA with orangutans, 98.4% with gorillas, 98.8% with chimpanzees  and 99.9% with other humans.

Rehabilitation and socialization, it is not impossible in some cases, but it takes years and thousands of euros of effort, which does not justify its use in shows or keeping them as pets.

WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR PRIMATE CONSERVATION?

In June 2015, after years of struggle by Jane Goodall and other institutions, captive chimpanzees enjoy the same protection in the wild USA, they are considered endangered. Two chimpanzees have also been recognized as legal persons in court on his compulsory detention. Primatologists agree that the intelligence of a chimpanzee is equivalent to a 4 years old child and the debate is still alive on the inclusion of the great apes on Human Rights. Something is changing in consideration of our closest relatives, but is still clearly insufficient. What it is in your hands?

  • Learn and share with your children, family and acquaintances capabilities and problems of these wonderful animals.
  • Do not buy or accept a primate as a gift or souvenirs made from them, especially if you are traveling to foreign countries where the sale is cheap and easy. You can go to jail.
Un simple llavero o cenicero hecho con la mano de un gorila lleva muchas muertes detrás. Foto de WWF
A simple key ring leads behind many deaths. Photo by WWF
  • Do not attend circuses or give audience to television programs which use animals and participate in campaigns against it.
  • Do not eat primate meat  (bushmeat)
  • Avoid visiting zoos and other institutions that keep primates in captivity for profit.
  • Do not use products tested on animals, especially cosmetics.
  • Do not buy tropical wood or seek FSC certification of sustainable logging.
  • Extend the life of electronic devices, especially mobile phones and recycle it as coltan and cassiterite it is used for manufacturing it.
  • Report illegal wildlife trading
  • Make donations to recovery centers or adopt a chimpanzee, also here
  • Do not use products with palm oil, responsible for causing the deaths of dozens of orangutans daily.
orangutan quemado, aceite de palma, pal oil, palmitate, pongo, deforestacion, muerto
Orangutan (Pongo spp.) (Literally, “man of the forest”) victim of deforestation for palm oil industry. Photo: unknown credit

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MIREIA QUEROL ALL YOU NEED IS BIOLOGY

Danger, poisonous mammals!

We usually associate snakes, spiders, jellyfish, etc. as venomous animals par excellence, but did you know that there are poisonous mammals? In this article we will discover who are they and the nature and use of their poisons.

THE PLATYPUS

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is the most famous among the poisonous mammals, and not just for this feature. With a peak like a duck and oviparous (laying eggs), when it was discovered some scientists thought it was a fraud.

platypus ornitorrinco ornitorinc
Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus). Photo by Jonathan Munro

They belong to the order monotremes, which means “one hole” in reference to the cloaca, the end of the digestive and reproductive systems. Some evolutionary biologists refer to them as the “missing linkbetween reptiles and mammals, as they have characteristics of both groups. Monotremes are the only mammals that lay eggs, but his body is covered with hair and the young are fed with breast milk. They are distributed by Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea.

Platypuses have a spur on the hind legs, which only in the case of males, release poison produced by femoral glands (located in the leg). The male uses it mainly to defend their territory and establish their dominance during the mating season, although if it is bothered also uses it as a defense. This poison can kill small animals, including dogs, and cause severe pain and swelling in humans. This pain can last days or months.

Platypus spur, espolón ornitorrinco
Spur on the hind leg of a platypus. Photo by E. Lonnon

Toxins are four proteins, three of which are unique to the platypus. They are like the defensins (DLP, defensin-like proteins). These are globular proteins, small and compacted, involved in the activation of pain receptors. Understanding how these toxins act it has special interest because they cause a lasting and severe pain; it may open new chances in the synthesis of analgesic drugs.

short-beaked echidna, equidna de nariz corta, equidna de nas curt
Short-beake echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus). Photo de Tony Britt-Lewis

Echidnas (family Tachyglossidae) complete the order of monotremes with the platypus; consequently they are also oviparous. The family consists of four species, with the common characteristic of having the body covered with dense hair and spines. They are mainly insectivores specializing in ants and termites.

Like the platypus, they also have spurs behind the knees, but their secretions are not poisonous. The substances are used to mark their territory, according to the recent studies.

SLOW LORIS

As we saw in a previous post, lorises are primates in the prosimians suborder. They are nocturnal, arboreal and feed primarily on insects, vegetables and fruits. The slow lorises (Nycticebus) living in Southeast Asia, are the only poisonous primate. They possess poison glands on the elbows (brachial gland), and poison their body with arms and tongue, which can also join saliva and be transmitted by bitting.

lori pigmeo, nycticebus pigmaeus,
Pygmy slow loris (Nycticebus pigmaeus). Photo by Ch’ien C. Lee

In this case the poison is used as a defense against predators, causing them pain, inflammation, necrosis (cell death) in the area of the bite, hematuria (blood in urine) or in some cases anaphylactic shock (allergic reaction) which can lead to death, even in humans (some are threatened by the illegal pet trade and traditional Chinese medicine). The poison also serves as protection for the young, they are licked by their parents and the poisonous secretion is distributed throughout the coat. Being poisonous, unusual among primates, can help counteract the disadvantages of its slow movements. Exudate from glands, as in echidnas, can also give olfactory information of range and territory between individuals of loris (Hagey et al., 2007).

Loris de Kayan (Nycticebus kayan). foto de Ch'ien C. Lee
Kayan loris (Nycticebus kayan). Photo by Ch’ien C. Lee

Toxins are polypeptides (generated when glandular secretion is mixed with saliva) and an unidentified steroid. Secretion is similar to the allergen Fel d 1 which is in the domestic cat and cause allergies in humans (Hagey et al., 2006; Krane et al., 2003).

It is believed that slow lorises even have converged evolutionarily with cobras, for his defensive behavior when threatened, whistling and raising his arms around his head. (Nekaris et. al, 2003).

Loris, cobras, evolucion, convergencia
Mimicry between loris and cobras. 1. Javan slow loris, 2 y 3. Spectacled cobra, 4. Bengal slow loris. Photo by Nekaris et. al.

In the following video a lazy lori is disturbed and hisses like a snake while trying to bite:

SOLENODON OR ALMIQUI

They are small and nocturnal mammals, basically insectivores, that live in the West Indies. The Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus), also known as the Dominican solenodon, Haitian solenodon or agouta, lives on the island de La Española (Dominican Republic and Haiti) while The Cuban solenodon or almiqui (Solenodon cubanus) is distributed throughout Cuba. They are considered living fossils because they have similar characteristics to primitive mammals of the end of the Mesozoic Era (kingdom of the dinosaurs).

solenodonte de La Española (Solenodon paradoxus
Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus). Photo by Eladio M. Fernández.

Unlike other poisonous mammals, toxic saliva is produced under the jaw (submandibular glands), which is transported by pipes to the front of the mouth. The second incisor teeth have a groove where toxic saliva accumulates to promote their entry into the wounds. They are the only mammals that inject venom through its teeth, similar to the way snakes do.

diente, solenodon, teeth, surco
Paradoxus Solenodon lower jaw incisor showing the groove. Photo by Phil Myers

The main function of this venom is to immobilize prey, as well as insects they can hunt small vertebrates such as reptiles, amphibians and birds.

Almiquí, Cuba, Solenodon, cubanus, Cuban giant shrew
Cuban solenodon (Solenodon cubanus). Photo by Julio Genaro.

This poison may have been developed to keep alive but immobilized prey during times of shortage, to aid in digestion, minimize energy expenditure in the struggle for hunting and face prey even twice as big as them. This venom is not deadly to humans.

SHREWS

The northern short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda), the Eurasian water shrew (Neomys fodiens) and the Mediterranean water shrew (Neomys anomalus) also have submandibular glands similar to solenodons. They are distributed by North America (northern short-tailed shrew) and Europe and Asia (water shrews), including the Iberian Peninsula.

Musaraña colicorta americana (Blarina brevicauda). Foto de Gilles Gonthier.
The northern short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda). Photo by Gilles Gonthier.

The short-tailed shrew can consume up to three times its weight in food per day. Their saliva is the most poisonous and uses it to paralyze their prey, to eat them or keep them alive in times of shortage. The water shrews also store its immobilized prey under rocks.

Musgaño (Neomys anomalus). Foto de rollin Verlinde.
Mediterranean water shrew (Neomys anomalus). Photo by Rollin Verlinde.

These animals attack from behind and bite the neck of its prey so that the poison acts more quickly, affecting the central nervous system (neurotoxins). The respiratory and vascular system is also affected and causes seizures, incoordination, paralysis and even death of small vertebrates.

Musgaño patiblanco-Neomys_fodiens, Wasserspitzmaus
Eurasian water shrew (Neomys fodiens). Photo by R. Altenkamp.

Its teeth don’t have grooves as the solenodons do, but a concave surface to store the toxic saliva.

neomys, anomalus, mandibula, dientes, veneno
Lower jaw of Neomys anomalus. Photo by António Pena.

It is suspected that other mammals also produce toxic saliva similarly, as the European mole (Talpa europaea) and other species of shrew, but there are no conclusive studies.

MANED RAT

The maned rat or crested rat (Lophiomys imhausi), lives in Africa and  uses his poisoned hair to protect themself from predators.

Rata crestada Lophiomys_imhausi, rata de crin, maned rat
Maned rat (Lophiomys imhausi). Photo by Kevin Deacon

Unlike other mammals that produce their own poison, the crested rat gets toxin (called ouabain) from the bark and roots of a tree (Acokanthera schimperi). Chews the bark and the mixture of saliva and toxins are distributed on the body. Their hairs are cylindrical whith a perforated microscopic structure, which favors the absorption of venom. In case of danger, it bristles and shows his brown coat with white stripes, warning of its potential danger. This strategy of persuasion based on brightly colored warning is known as aposematism present in many animals, such as bees.

In this BBC video you can see a crested rat and a hair under the microscope absorbing ink, showing its porous structure:

It is unknown how it is immune to the toxin, since it is the same substance used by some African tribes for hunting such large animals like elephants.

Ouabain is a glycoside which controls the heartbeat, causing infarcts if absorbed in large quantities. The study of the mechanisms that protect the crested rat of a substance that regulates the heartbeat, can help develop treatments for heart problems.

European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) have similar behavior (smearing the body with foreign poison), but it is not established whether the objective is defensive because it does not scare away predators.

In conclusion, strategies, practices and nature of the poison in mammals are varied and their study may have important medical implications for drug development and increase awareness of the evolutionary relationships between different groups of living animals (reptiles-mammals) and their ancestors.

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MIREIA QUEROL ALL YOU NEED IS BIOLOGY