Solenodontidae: Solenodon Family

There are 2 species only of solenodons alive today — Solenodon cubanus on Cuba and Solenodon paradoxus on the neighbouring islands of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. They are rather ungainly, uncoordinated creatures and, although they are about the size of rats, they look more like shrews with their probing snouts. Their eyes are small and rheumy and they are far more nocturnal than the wide-eyed rats.

Solenodons grow and breed slowly and this, combined with the predatory attacks of dogs and cats, means that their survival is now threatened. Conservation areas are being established for these animals, but their future is far from secure.

Cuban Solenodon

Size: 28 - 39 cm (11 - 15.5 in); 1 kg (2.2 lb).

Range: Cuba.

Habitat: Montane forest.

The lesser known of the two solenodon species, the Cuban solenodon is found in eastern Cuba, where it occupies caves and hollows in wet mountain forests. Cuban solenodons live in small family groups, probably made up of a mother and her assorted offspring. Although these solenodons do not have a joint inside their snout like their Hispaniolan relatives, the snout is still extremely flexible. They are believed to have toxic saliva, which is delivered into wounds when the animal bites an attacker. There is no evidence that this venom is used in hunting.

The females carry their young while they are still attached to their teats (most insectivores and other mammals carry young in their mouth or on their back). This species has more catholic tastes than the Hispaniolan solenodon: as well as insects, it eats small reptiles, roots and leaves.

Hispaniolan Solenodon

This highly unusual species of mammal lives on Hispaniola, a large Caribbean island in the Greater Antilles. The island is divided into Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Most solenodons are found in the north of the island, in wooded and brush areas. By day the solenodons shelter in extensive tunnel systems that they excavate themselves. They will also rest in tree hollows and caves. As night falls, the solenodons leave their dens to look for insects, other invertebrates and fruits. Their main foods are millipedes, beetles, grasshoppers, snails and worms.

Looking like a huge shrew, this rare species uses its large forelegs for digging tunnel networks. All the feet have long claws. The Hispaniolan solenodon has 40 teeth for cutting up insect prey. Some of these teeth can inject venomous saliva when the animal bites its victims.

Solenodons forage by sniffing out prey with their long snout. The Hispaniolan solenodon's snout is unique among mammals, because it is connected to the skull by a ball-and-socket joint, which makes it extremely flexible. As it forages the animal uses its clawed feet to overturn stones and rip off bark to expose insects.

Distribution Hispaniola.

Habitat: Woodland and bushy areas.

Food: Insects.

Size: 28 - 33 cm (11 - 13 cm); 0.6 - 1 kg (1.25 - 2.2 lb).

Maturity: Unknown.

Breeding: 2 litters of up to 3 offspring born at all times of year.

Life span: 11 years.

Status: Endangered.