Saturday, October 1, 2016

Hispaniolan Solenodon - Giant Shrews

Deep in the heart of the island of Hispaniola is a weird, but cute, animal called the Hispaniolan solenodon, also known as the Dominican solenodon. You most likely have never heard of this animal before. It was first described by Johann Friedrich von Brandt, a German naturalist, in 1833. A similar but smaller species, Marcano's solenodon (S. marcanoi), had once lived on the island, but was wiped out after European colonization. In a nutshell, the Hispaniolan solenodon looks like giant shrew. This short article is about this strange animal and how it lives in the wild.

With its elongated snout, many would mistake the hispaniolan solenodon for a shew. However, it’s actually a totally different mammal. They do, however, belong to the same order (Eulipotyphla). Unlike most animals, female and male hispaniolan solenodon grow to be about the same size. Adults can measure up to an average of 49 to 72 cm (19 to 28 in) in total length, including a tail 20 to 25 cm (7.9 to 9.8 in), and weigh about 800 g (28 oz). Although they vary in color, they usually come in a dusky brown all over their body, with a pale underside and brick red to reddish brown fur on the sides of their heads, upper chest, and throat. Their legs, tails, snout, and eyelids are hairless.

Their forelegs are stronger and are noticeably more developed compared to their hind legs, but they use both for digging. Its head ratio is bigger than its body, with tiny eyes and ears that are partially hidden under their fur and a long rostrum. Their shout has around a dozen long whiskers and their nostrils open to the side. One of the unique features that this animal has is the os proboscidis, which is a bone extending forward from the nasal opening to support the snout cartilage. The hispaniolan solenodon is one of the few mammals that are actually venomous. Venomous saliva is secreted by their submaxillary gland and flows through a thin tube their second lower incisor. The venom is quite fatal, but its exact chemical composition is unknown. They also have small apocrine glands on their thighs. The secretion from these glands are used to communication between individuals.
Habitat and Distribution

These specific solenodonas are only found in Hispaniola, an island in the Dominican Republic, as well as in some parts of southern Haiti. These animals live in moist forest and burrow in the right soil. Two subspecies, the Solenodon paradoxus paradoxus (found in the northern Dominican Republic) and the Solenodon paradoxus woodi (found far southern Dominican Republic, Tiburon Peninsula) are recognized. They appear to have a patchy distribution and are found within and outside protected areas.

They are nocturnal animals, spending most of their time hunting and moving around at night. During the day, they hide in their burrows or in small caves and hollowed-out logs and trees, staying out of view. Burrows often contain multiple tunnels and chambers that are usually inhabited by a pair, together with younger family members. When they emerge into the open air, they run on the soles of their feet, following an erratic, zigzag pattern.


Hispaniolan solenodons mainly feed on arthropods, but they also eat small reptiles, snails, worms, and even mice. They’re also known to eat leaves, grains, and fruits in small amounts. To find food, they use their snouts to sniff out any insects and other small animals under the earth and use their claws to dig or rip open rotten logs. They have also been reported to make echolocation clicks so they could possible use this to locate prey as well.


Other than their scent gland, the hispaniolan solenodons have been reported to make a number of vocalisations, including a loud defensive "chirp", an aggressive "squeal", a soft "squeak" when encountering familiar conspecifics, and a high-pitched "clic" when encountering strangers and other of its kind.


Mating happens throughout the whole year, although females are only receptive for short periods once every ten days or so. Gestation period last over 84 days and litters consist of one to three young. If there are more than two offsprings, the others usually have a hard time surviving since female hispaniolan solenodons only have one pair of teats. The young are born hairless and blind, completely dependent to their mother’s care. They are carried around by their mother for their first two months, although it is unknown how long it takes for them to be fully weaned. In captivity, hispaniolan solenodons can live up to eleven years.

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