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Maned or crested rat (Lophiomys imhausi)The maned or crested rat occurs sea level to 3,300 m above sea level in fragmented localities across eastern Africa in Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. It lives in various habitats including scrub forest, semi-desert, dry and moist savanna or woodland and is often found in rocky and forested highland areas. Fossil remains have been discovered in Israel (3,4). Fossil remains have been found as far north as Israel.
The body length is 225-360 mm and the tail length is 140 to 175 mm; the mass is 590-920 g. Females are generally larger than males. Maned rats superficially resemble porcupines. They have relatively short limbs, small ears, bushy tail and a long body. The unique skull has bony projections extend over the eye socket and an enlarged parietal section. It is reinforced by additional bone in some areas. These features may give added protection against attacks. Lophiomys differs from typical Muridae in having the temporal fossa roofed over a thin plate of bone, rudimentary clavicles and an opposable hallux. This led to it being made the type of a family, but its dentition is typical of Cricetines (2).
The coat consists of long, silver and black-tipped guard hairs over a dense, woolly, grey and white undercoat, with the face and limbs having short, black fur. A mane of longer, coarser black-and-white banded hairs extends from the top of the animal's head to just beyond the base of the tail. This mane is bordered by a broad, white-bordered strip of hairs covering an area of glandular skin. When the animal is threatened, disturbed or excited, the mane erects and this strip parts, exposing the glandular area., which releases foul-smelling chemicals similar to those released by skunks. The tips of hairs in this area are like ordinary hair, but the rest of these hairs is spongy, fibrous, and absorbent. The rat chews the bark of Acokanthera schimperi and smears these hairs with poison from the bark to create a defence mechanism that can sicken or kill predators which try to bite it (1). Maned rats have specialized feet and hands for feeding and climbing (3,4).
This rat is nocturnal and terrestrial. It lives in burrows or holes in rocks on cliff-faces, hollow dead tree trunks, holes along the tops of ravines or in bushy areas near river banks (3,4). It is herbivorous and feeds mainly on leaves, roots, fruit, and other plant material; it is especially fond of the leaves of sweet potato plants. Captives may eat meat, cereals, root vegetables and insects. It sits on its haunches, grasps food using its fore paws and thumbs to manipulate food items and bring them to its mouth (3,4). It does not have to drink often as its diet provides adequate moisture. There is one or 2-3 young in a litter. The young emerge with abundant hair (3).
The Red List Assessment in 2008 was "Least Concern", due to the rat's wide distribution including several protected areas, presumed large population and as its population is not believed to be in decline at present. Maned rats are abundant in some areas of their range (3). There are no major threats known to this species.