Monday, October 25, 2004

Animal of the Week October 25, 2004 -- The first animal of the week

Believe it or not, I don't know all the species of animal. A couple of years ago, I was reminded that duck-billed platypuses were one of two species of poisonous mammal, I knew this but had never before really thought about the implications of this fact... there is another poisonous mammal. This set me awondering: what is the other poisonous mammal? My first thought was echidna. The other living monotremes besides the platypus were the obvious choice, but no, they are not poisonous. So a little nosing around turned up the solenodons. "What the heck?!" I quizzed myself. I had never heard of solenodons and I thought I knew all the animals. So I read about the solenodons, two species live on two islands (Hispaniola and Cuba) in the Caribean. They are weird looking (they look like the giant rats from the Princess Bride film) primitive insectivores. Reaching 33 cm long, they have nearly nude tails and nude feet. Their feet are large and with big claws. Fossil solenodons were found in North America from 30 million years ago, and the modern day versions are barely changed. They have grooves in their second incisors, at the base of these grooves is a modified salivary gland that produces their venom. They can be quite tetchy, and even minor injuries inflicted during scraps between two solenodons can kill. They evolved in isolation with no other terrestrial carnivores, but since the introduction of dogs, cats, and the disastrous Indian mongoose to their homelands, solenodons have been brought to the brink of extinction. They are quite slow breeders, although a female may have 1–3 litters of up to 3 young a year, she can only really raise two at a time as that's the number of nipples she has. And where are her nipples? On her backside, that's where. As Regina Spektor says, Freaky!
Such a weird looking beast, and so shocked was I that I'd not know about this before, I sent this picture of a Haitian solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus) and a little information about it to my mate Lucy at work, labelling it, for no apparent reason, animal of the week.
I didn't make AOTW a regular feature until December... but this is where it all started.
Before anyone gets all smart on my ass, it turns out that a few species of shrew are also venomous.