Pine Nuts: The rat and the elephant |

Pine Nuts: The rat and the elephant

Science has always been a passion of mine, partly because I flunked science in high school and have never understood why. But I stumbled upon a gemstone of science the other day that would make the most lettered academic in the world smile. It has to do with a rat and an elephant, a rat that can drop an elephant to his knees actually, and I don’t mean the mouse and the elephant in the Disney movie “Dumbo” either.

No, this rat is an African Crested Rat who will nibble the branch of a poison arrow tree, lick that poison onto his fur, and then parade around, proud as a porcupine, in full knowledge and confidence that if a hyena takes a bite out of him, well, that will be one sick hyena.

So how in tarnation did they learn how to do this? Well, my guess is they learned how to protect themselves by witnessing hunters tainting their arrows with toxin milked from the Acokanthera Shimperi tree. The curious rat then looked on as an unfortunate victim of that poisonous arrow was turned to stone. I really don’t know how a rat could be so smart as to figure this poison thing out, and then continue to do really ratty things like making a snug home for himself in a sewer.

Next question: How did this rat manage to fortify himself with lethal doses of poison without swallowing a little himself and falling over as one sick rat? I mean, that’s a big risk to take. “Oh, I’ll just lick enough poison onto my fur to knock off an elephant, and be careful not to swallow any myself.” I don’t know ten people who would be willing to take that chance.

I guess I have to believe that Mother Nature, smart and caring as she is, gave that rat an inherited instinct that tells that rat, “Hey, unless you protect your hide with a little poison, that hyena is going to make a meal out of you.” Who wouldn’t listen to that argument?

Of course there will always be one rat who will not pay any attention to Mother Nature, and after licking some poison onto his fur, will parade around in front of a Mozambique spitting cobra who eats poison for dinner and loves it, and well, that little rat, with his false sense of security, suddenly discovers he is dinner.

Such mysteries of science bring us around to a virus that does not have a brain, and yet manages to find its way into the lungs of billions of human beings. We can’t lay that one at the foot of Mother Nature so there must be some other force at work that we don’t know about. But hey, if a rat can learn to knock-off an elephant, we can surely learn to knock-off a brainless virus, don’t you think? And maybe we will; there’s a rumor floating around that Santa’s on his way, and he’s loaded lots of vaccines on his sleigh.

With heartfelt gratitude to our world’s amazing scientists, here’s a wish for a hale and hearty, healthy and happy holiday season …

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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