Madagascar’s small mammals can be broken down into two groups: tenrecs and rodents. Tenrecs are a group of small mammals that are similar to the tenacious small mammals that survived the events that killed off the dinosaurs. The rodents are mainly arboreal, living and foraging in the trees and understory.
We are currently working on identifying the rodents and smaller tenrec species, so here are the three largest and most distinctive tenrecs.
Common tenrec (Tenrec ecaudatus), Greater hedgehog tenrec (Setifer setosus), and Lowland streaked tenrec (Hemicentetes semispinosus): Least Concern (LC)
All of these tenrecs are widespread and rather common, with the common and the greater hedgehog found all over Madagascar. All three are also tolerant of habitat disturbance. The common tenrec is also the largest land-dwelling tenrec species in the world (it can weigh as much as a Chihuahua). This tenrec has coarse reddish-grey fur, with long sharp spines mixed in, and the females have the highest reproductive potential of all known mammals, able to breed twice a year and have up to 32 babies each time. The greater hedgehog and lowland streaked tenrecs all have much more modest litter sizes, averaging around 6 a pop, although the lowland streaked tenrec can start breeding as young as five weeks old. The juveniles of the common tenrec look similar to the lowland streaked tenrec, perhaps as a defense mechanism.
The common and the lowland streaked tenrecs have variable activity patterns, mostly active at night, but able to be seen during the day. The greater hedgehog tenrec is the only one of these three that is a strict night owl. All three species are general omnivores, with the lowland streaked tenrec having a taste for earthworms and the common tenrec occasionally eating a mouse or a frog. The common tenrec will nest under rocks or bushes while the lowland streaked tenrec digs a burrow near a stream or creek. Of the three, the lowland streaked is the only one that lives in family groups; the hedgehog tenrec and common tenrec are basically solitary, with groups generally being a mother and her young. Because it is a social animal, the lowland streaked tenrec will vibrate its spines to create a low chattering sound, using the sound to communicate to other members of its family.
All three species are preyed upon by many species, leading them to be on the defensive much of the time. A common tenrec will fight back with its sharp and relatively long canines, while a hedgehog tenrec will curl up into a spiky ball (like its namesake). The lowland streaked tenrec, although the smallest of these three, also seems to believe that a good offense is the best defense, and will raise its hackles and charge (adorably) so that its spines are ready to pierce flesh.
All three species aren’t in danger of becoming extinct anytime soon, although the common and greater hedgehog tenrec are hunted throughout their range.