Solenodons: Solenodontidae

views updated

SOLENODONS: Solenodontidae



The two living species in this family are the Cuban solenodon (suh-LEN-uh-dun), which is also known as the almiqui (ahl-mee-KEE), and the Hispaniolan solenodon, which is sometimes called the Haitian solenodon. Both have extremely long snouts that extend beyond the end of their lower jaw. Their four relatively tall legs, clawed feet, and long tails are nearly hairless. Most are brown on the back, or sometimes black in the Cuban solenodon, and have lighter-colored fur on their undersides. Cuban solenodons have longer, coarser, back hair, giving it a shaggier appearance. They are also slightly smaller than Hispaniolan solenodons. Overall, adult solenodons range from about 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) in length, and their tail adds another 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 centimeters). Adults weigh 1.3 to 2.4 pounds (0.6 to 1.1 kilograms).

Both species have glands under their front teeth that produce poison. When they bite into a prey animal, the poison flows from the glands down grooves in their teeth and into the prey.


Solenodons live in Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Cuba. In the past they were also found in Puerto Rico.


Solenodons occupy tropical forests on the sides of mountains, and also can be found in plantations and other flat, brushy areas.


Solenodons spend most of their nighttime hours above ground, poking their long snouts into the dirt and any other little opening they can find to search for insects, spiders, earthworms, and other invertebrates, animals without backbones. They will also claw apart old, rotten logs where many of their prey live.


Like most other insectivores, solenodons rest during the day and become active at night. They usually spend their days in small groups within burrows or shallow hollows in the ground, but may also rest in small hiding places. They spread out at night to look for food alone, and will attack fellow solenodons that get too close, often inflicting nasty bites. If a predator approaches, the solenodon has the option of charging and biting, or running off. Unless it is startled or has nowhere to flee, it will usually choose running over fighting.

Solenodons make a number of noises, including shrieks, grunts, and clicks. Some scientists believe the clicks may help them find prey. Just as bats make high-pitched noises and listen as the noises bounce off objects and back to them, solenodons may listen for the bounced clicks to detect objects, like prey, in their surroundings. This ability to "see" objects with reflected sound waves is called echolocation (eck-oh-loh-KAY-shun).

Males and females can breed at any time of year, and females usually have two litters (young born at the same time) every year. A mother may have one, two, or three babies at a time. Mothers nurse their young with two nipples located toward the rear of the animal, which are farther back than on a typical mammal. The babies continue nursing for about seventy-five days, but often stay with their mother until well after the next litter is born.


Like other mammals, solenodon mothers nurse their babies with milk delivered through their nipples. A mother may have up to three babies in each litter, but she has only two nipples. All three of her young cannot feed at once. As a result, one of the three babies typically gets less of the nourishing milk than the other two, becomes weaker and weaker, and eventually dies.


Solenodons and people usually do not see one another, unless the solenodon makes its home in a plantation or garden. Homeowners and farmers sometimes view them as pests because they occasionally damage crops while rooting around in the dirt for insects and other prey that live near plants.


According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN) both species are Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also list these two species as Endangered. The causes for their decline include hunting by dogs and cats, and the removal of the forests where the solenodons live. The IUCN lists a third species, Marcano's solenodon, as extinct.


Physical characteristics: This large insectivore's long tail, long snout, and rather lengthy legs are nearly naked. From the tip of the snout to the end of the tail, an adult can reach 22 inches (56 centimeters) long. Adults range from 11 to 12 inches (28 to 32.5 centimeters) in body length with tails of 7 to 10 inches (17.5 to 25.5 centimeters), and weigh 1.3 to 2.4 pounds (0.6 to 1.1 kilograms). Color varies somewhat, but individuals usually have a brownish coat on the back and a lighter-colored underside. The forelimbs are stronger and have larger paws than the hind limbs. All four paws have five toes.

Geographic range: Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Habitat: Hispaniolan solenodons typically live in forests, but sometimes make their homes in plantations or gardens.

Diet: The Hispaniolan solenodon's diet includes insects and other invertebrates, small reptiles, some fruit and vegetables, and possibly an occasional young chicken.

Behavior and reproduction: During the day, Hispaniolan solenodons rest in various hiding places, including hollow trees or logs, tight places in caves or slender cracks in rocks, or in the burrows they make. Several solenodons may rest together in a burrow. When they become active at night, they scout around on the surface looking for food. Adults are loners during this period, even fighting with one another.

Males and females produce an oily, greenish fluid, which tells members of the opposite sex that they are ready to mate. Females can have one or two litters each year, and may have them in any season. Each litter typically has one to three babies, which the mother feeds from two nipples located near the mother's rump. The young can latch onto the nipples and remain attached even if the mother decides to go for a walk. The young simply drag along the ground underneath her. The babies stop nursing after about two-and-a-half months, but may stay with the family for several months, even after the mother has another litter.

Hispaniolan solenodons and people: Other than an occasional runin in a farm field or garden, solenodons and humans rarely see one another.

Conservation status: Both the IUCN and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service list this species as Endangered. Threats come in the form of dogs and cats that prey on the animal, and the human destruction of the forests where it lives. ∎



Eisenberg, John F. "Tenrecs and Solenodons in Captivity." In International Zoo Yearbook 15. London: Zoological Society of London, 1975.

Nowak, Ronald M. Walker's Mammals of the World, 6th ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.


Eisenberg, John F., and Edwin Gould. "The Behavior of Solenodon paradoxus in Captivity with Comments on the Behavior of other Insectivora." Zoologica 51 (1966): 49–57.

Wood, Charles A. "The Last Endemic Mammals in Hispaniola." Oryx 16 (1981): 146–152.

Web sites:

Baillie, J. "Solenodon cubanus." 2003 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. (accessed on July 1, 2004).

Baillie, J. "Solenodon marcanoi." 2003 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. (accessed on July 1, 2004).

Baillie, J. "Solenodon paradoxus." 2003 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. (accessed on July 1, 2004).

Eatroff, A. "Solenodon paradoxus." Animal Diversity Web. (accessed on July 1, 2004).

"The Haitian Solenodon." Dominican Fauna. (accessed on July 1, 2004).

Massicot, P. "Haitian Solenodon." Animal Info. (accessed on July 1, 2004).