A Shrew On the Edge of Existence
June 2, 2010 1:13 PM   Subscribe

This species was around seventy-six million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the continents were splitting.  The impact of a colossal space rock wiped out the dinosaurs but did not finish them off, even though their habitat was close to 'ground zero'.  They survived the super-hot "greenhouse Earth" of the Eocene, major changes in global ecosystems, and the Ice Age (take that, Scrat).  They have grooved teeth which inject venom into their prey; very strong limbs which end in long sharp claws.  They have only three native predators.  However this 'living fossil' called the Solenodon could soon be wiped out by mongoose, people and wild dogs.

Before humans arrived, around 120 species of land mammal occurred in the Caribbean region.  Many have now gone extinct, some very recently, with possibly only 15 surviving today.

A Last Survivors project led by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (and funded by the UK's Darwin Initiative) was launched in the Dominican Republic in October 2009:
Its goal is to conduct field research on these poorly known species to assess their status, identify their conservation needs, to develop monitoring tools and to plan their long-term conservation.
Field research continues, but some photos and video of the Solenodon have been released along with some more background (example: Their elongated snout is joined to the skull by a unique ball-and-socket joint, giving it considerable flexibility to catch hiding prey.)

The Hispaniolan solenodon is considered one of the top priority mammal species in the world for conservation by the EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) of Existence conservation initiative.
posted by Hardcore Poser (9 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Also it is adorable.
posted by tuck_nroll at 2:04 PM on June 2, 2010

I thought this was going to be about the coleanath fish at first. Wild that it still exists and I've never heard of it.
posted by anti social order at 2:25 PM on June 2, 2010

From the description in the FPP, I was expecting some hideous looking brain-sucking creation. But the little fella is actually kinda cute.
posted by slogger at 2:35 PM on June 2, 2010

They are cute. However, reading that they carry their young around on their teats makes my eyes water. Having said that, I suppose they can't carry them in their mouths if they have venomous saliva.
posted by jonesor at 2:56 PM on June 2, 2010

great post, fascinating animal, thanks.
posted by Substrata at 4:14 PM on June 2, 2010

Where do they fall, evolution-wise, relative to the monotremes, which I always thought were the most primitive mammals?
posted by leotrotsky at 6:25 PM on June 2, 2010

leotrotsky: "Where do they fall, evolution-wise, relative to the monotremes, which I always thought were the most primitive mammals?"

Most of the monotreme fossils are from the Mesozoic era, which starts 265 million years ago but ends at 65 million years. The oldest one is between 112 and 121 million years (solenodon are from around 75 million years ago). So monotremes are older, but not by much in the grand scheme.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:54 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, I was just certain this was going to be about the elephant shrew, and although they are similar in appearance, it looks like a solenodon could eat two shrews for brunch and go back for strawberries & cream. Heck, even this Wikipedia entry on venomous mammals mentions the resemblance.

Another reason I was confused: some shrews have a poisonous bite as well, although they don't actually inject the poison (it's in their saliva). However, it turns out the elephant shrew is not amongst these venomous little tykes.

Solenodons, though - they're cute!!! Want one!
posted by IAmBroom at 7:40 AM on June 3, 2010

I wonder what it says about us as a species when we can find even the venomous creatures adorable (I agree completely, BTW). Strange that the most vicious of the Looney Tunes animals, Tasmanian Devil, is one of the most popular.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:13 AM on June 3, 2010

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