Dear Mother Nature,
I don’t think anyone likes me. I’m not a rodent, but they call me a “moonrat” because I’m nocturnal and have a scaly tail. I smell of rotten garlic, all the time, so I can’t switch it on and off like a skunk. I’m the largest hedgehog in the world, but I don’t even have spines and can’t hibernate. Most photos are of me squashed next to or on a road, and if I see another one of me in real life, I get huffy and grumpy. I don’t mind being alone, but I worry that everyone hates me and I’ll be forgotten. What’s wrong with me?
Mother Nature says:
You’ve made my day, little moonrat. I usually hear from ostriches moaning they can’t fly, or frogs asking why they’re poisonous after being eaten, so your letter is a ray of sunshine. Or moonlight, if you will. Let’s take them one by one.
They call me a “moonrat” because I’m nocturnal and have a scaly tail.
Not every rat is terrible, but that’s for another time. You’re also called a moonrat for your black and white silky fur. And, like the moon, your kind starts with a white, light alba subspecies in the east and ends in a darker form in the west. See? You’re poetic too.
I smell of rotten garlic, all the time.
Why does that bother you? It’s an ideal form of non-violent defence. A veteran Washington National Zoo keeper even said that’s why you have no natural predators. And which animal wouldn’t want an effortless, effective defence mechanism?
I don’t even have spines and can’t hibernate.
Spines are a pain to manage anyway. And why on Earth would you need to hibernate in South East Asia. You love water, so it wouldn’t be to escape the rainy season.
Most photos of my kind are of us squashed next to or on a road.
I can’t recommend much here except to look both ways, or avoid roads altogether. I appreciate that’s getting harder these days. So I only count one legitimate complaint so far.
If I see another one of me in real life, I get huffy and grumpy. I don’t mind being alone…
Not everyone can or should be a social butterfly, and we all need our own space. In fact I’d be annoyed if someone else tried to co-opt the natural order of things. There’s no shame in being a loner, especially one that doesn’t hurt anybody.
I worry that everyone hates me and I’ll be forgotten.
Nonsense. Did you see that story in Thailand last year? A moonrat was chased to exhaustion by a dog, and then a passing jogger rescued it and gave it water and bananas until it recovered. Then they released it. Would they have done that if they hated you? But most heinous of all, you’re the one that’s forgotten you!
You’re already special, because you’re the only one in the Echinosorex genus. Your family Erinaceidae also pulled themselves out of the ashes after the dinosaur apocalypse 66 million years ago. Many others didn’t.
Not only that, they were trailblazers. They were the earliest known to nourish their babies by placenta, so they could stay safe in the womb for a bit longer. It worked so well almost all mammals are doing this today. And by eating earthworms, bugs and other pests, you’re already somebody’s hero.
I hope this helps you brighten up a bit. And without any natural predators, you can do that as much as you want in the dark!
Latin: Echinosorex gymnura
What? A primitive hedgehog with long fur instead of spines, and an interesting fragrance!
Where? South East Asia, e.g. Thailand, the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo, usually near water
How big? Its body is 26 to 45 cm / 10.2 to 17.7 inches long, tail 17 to 29 cm / 6.7 to 11.4 inches long. Females are slightly bigger than males.
Endangered? Despite the lack of photos, not really – it’s Least Concern at the moment due to its numbers and being fairly adaptable.
Probable motto: I’m cuter if you wear a clothes peg.
They look cute. Do they need my help at all?
The moonrat puts up with a certain amount of disturbance – it’s been seen hanging around rubber plantations, for instance – but its forest home is still being levelled for palm oil, and cars are not its friend. Since it’s Least Concern there are no specific campaigns at the moment, but South East Asia’s rainforests need more cuddles.
Act for Wildlife, led by Chester Zoo, is championing sustainable palm oil, as well as raising awareness and helping reforestation. The Borneo-based South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEAARP) helps scientists, er, research rainforests and their threats.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing:
Brozovic, Robert et al. 2018. “Effects of forest degradation on the moonrat Echinosorex gymnura in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo“. Mammalian Biology 93:135-143.
“Echinosorex gymnura“. No date. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. No date. “Moonrat“. Britannica.com.
Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. No date. “Paleocene epoch“. Britannica.com.
Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. No date. “Placental mammal“. Britannica.com.
Fox, David L. No date. “Echinosorex gymnura“. Animal Diversity Web.
He, Kai, et al. 2012. “An Estimation of Erinaceidae Phylogeny: A Combined Analysis Approach“. PLoSONE 7(6):e39304
“Keeper at National Zoo says goodbye to the animals“. 2014. The Columbian.
“Moonrat“. No date. Thai National Parks.
“Rarely seen moonrat nursed back to health and released“. 2018. Newsflare/Dailymotion.com.
Strauss, Bob. 2018. “The 20 biggest mammals, ranked by category“. Thoughtco.com
Featured image credit: “Moonrat (Echinosorex_gymnura)” by painted-wolfs-den