Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hispaniolan Solenodon

Alright so. The Hispaniolan Solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus) is considered to be one of the best examples of what mammals looked like during their beginnings over 70 million years ago. The ancestors of this shrew-like creature branched off from other mammalian families during the late Cretaceous period, and the extant Hispaniolan Solenodon is now one of the last few remaining native mammal species in the Caribbean. Literally dozens of mammal species existed on these islands prior to human colonization, but now due to loss of habitat and increased predation from introduced species populations, only around fifteen remain.
Image from Focus on Nature

The Hispaniolan Solenodon is unique to the island of Hispaniola, were it can be found in a multitude of habitats... well, that is, if you can find them. They are very difficult to locate in the wild, and at times many believed them to be extinct. Conservation efforts have been ongoing between various government agencies, zoo organizations, and the EDGE program. EDGE brings awareness and conservation to some of the rarest and most genetically unique mammal and amphibian species in the world. The Hispaniolan Solenodon is an EDGE Focal Species.

What makes the Hispaniolan Solenodon so unique? Well, aside from the 76 million year old evolutionary split, they are one of only a few mammals that can produce toxic saliva. This mechanism is used to capture their insect prey and is something that was more commonly found in prehistoric mammals. The venom is injected through their lower incisors. Solenodons are about the size of rats, are nocturnal, and live in family groups that consist of a breeding pair and one to two offspring. Only one case of captive breeding has ever been documented. Their life expectancy in the wild is unknown, but one captive individual lived eleven years, which places them as relatively long lived small mammal. Traditionally they only had three major predators, the Barn and Stygian Owls, and the Hispaniolan Boa. Today, feral dogs and cats, as well as mongoose introduced to the island, have hurt their numbers considerably. More information about this fascinating creature and its conservation can be found at EDGE and at The Last Survivors project.

Thank you so much to @greenantilles for the wonderful suggestion!

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