Tenrecidae: Tenrec Family

This family includes the 24 species, all restricted to Madagascar and the Comoro Islands, and the 3 West African otter shrews. Tenrecs have adapted to a number of different lifestyles. Tenrec resembles the North American opossum. Setifer resembles hedgehogs. Microgale resembles shrews, and Oryzorictes has molelike characteristics.

All tenrecs retain some reptilian features, regarded as primitive in mammals, such as the cloaca, where the urogenital and anal canals open into a common pouch.


Greater Hedgehog Tenrec

Range: Madagascar.

Habitat: Dry forest, highland plateaux.

Size: Body: 6 - 7 1/2 in (15 - 19 cm); Tail: 1/2 - 3/4 in (10 - 16 mm).

The greater hedgehog tenrec has short, sharp spines, which cover its back like a dense, prickly mantle. If disturbed, it rolls itself into a ball and emits a series of squeaks and grunts. The female produces a litter of up to 6 young in January. The young have soft spines at birth, which harden in 2 weeks.


Rice Tenrec

Range: Madagascar.

Habitat: Marshy areas.

Size: Body: 3 - 5 in (8 - 13 cm); Tail: 1 1/4 - 2 in (3 - 5 cm).

Rice tenrecs, so called because they occupy the banks beside rice fields, spend most of their lives underground; their forelimbs are well adapted for digging. They feed on invertebrates, but there is some evidence that they also eat mollusks and crustaceans.

Rice tenrecs may be active underground at all hours. Nothing is known of their breeding habits, but they are sufficiently abundant to achieve pest status in the rice growing areas of Madagascar.


Aquatic Tenrec

The aquatic tenrec lives in the fast-running streams that flow through the highland region of eastern Madagascar. There are only eight locations where the tenrecs have a sustainable population. Like other aquatic mammals, this species is especially sensitive to water pollution and habitat destruction.

This small tenrec does not have the spiny coat of other species. Instead its sleek fur resembles that of an otter. Unlike other tenrecs, this species has a rounded snout and webbed hind feet.

It hunts underwater by night. Its main prey is the larvae of insects such as dragonflies, but it also catches small frogs and crayfish. The tenrecs swim against the rapid current using their large, webbed hind feet. (The species is often also referred to as the web-footed tenrec). The thick tail is used as a rudder.

Aquatic tenrecs use short whiskers on the their snout to locate prey. The whiskers pick up the tiny eddies created in the water by the movements of small prey. The eyes and ears are small and of less use. By day they rest in bank-side burrows.

Distribution: Madagascar.

Habitat: Mountain streams.

Food: Insects, frogs and crayfish.

Size: 24 cm (9.5 in); 100 g (3.5 oz).

Maturity: Unknown.

Breeding: Litters of 3 young born in March and April.

Life span: Unknown.

Status: Endangered.


Large-eared Tenrec

Size: 10 cm (4 in); 6 g (0.25 oz).

Large-eared tenrecs are small shrew-like tenrecs that live in the south of Madagascar. They inhabit dry forests and scrub. This sort of habitat is generally hot. This species of tenrec is unusual because its body temperature rises and falls with that of its surroundings, whereas most mammals maintain a constant body temperature, either cooling or warming themselves. These insectivores use their large ears to pick up the sounds of prey. They hunt at night and have poor vision. Large-eared tenrecs consume mainly termites, but also eat other types of insects.


Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec

Size: 17.5 cm (7 in); 200 g (7 oz).

Tenrecs are generally considered as relatives of the insectivores, such as moles, shrews and hedgehogs. However, recent research suggests that they might be more closely related to aardvarks and elephants. This fact makes the lesser hedgehog tenrec all the more interesting. This small mammal from Madagascar looks very similar to the hedgehogs found throughout Africa, Asia and Europe. It has a coat of spines and short legs for shuffling around undergrowth. Unlike true hedgehogs, however, this species is often seen to climb into trees. The lesser hedgehog tenrec occupies dry habitats in southern and western Madagascar, such as scrubland and dry monsoon forests, that rely on a single deluge of rain for their survival. The tenrecs are night-time foragers. They eat insects, small mammals and plant food.