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Tenrecs: Lowland Streaked, Web-Footed & Lesser Hedgehog

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Tenrecs are unique and diverse animals found only on Madagascar. There are numerous species of tenrec, and in this lesson we'll take a closer look at three of them: the lowland streaked tenrec, the web-footed tenrec, and the lesser hedgehog tenrec.

What are Tenrecs?

It's not a shrew, or a mouse, an otter, an opossum, or even a hedgehog. So what the heck is a tenrec? These unique-looking animals that come in roughly 30 different species and are mostly found on the island of Madagascar (though a few live on the African mainland and the Comoro Islands) look like a mix of different things that may or may not belong together. They are small animals that mostly feed on invertebrates, and are surprisingly diverse. In this lesson, we're going to look at three specific tenrecs: the lowland streaked tenrec, the web-footed tenrec, and the lesser hedgehog tenrec.

Tenrecs are mostly found on the island of Madagascar
Madagascar

Lowland Streaked Tenrec

The lowland streaked tenrec looks kind of like a mix between a shrew and a hedgehog. Its back side is covered with quills and fur, while its underside is covered in a soft hair. True to its name, the lowland streaked tenrec has four yellow streaks running the length of its body. It also has a long, pointed snout, no tail, big ears, and small eyes. It's a small creature, reaching only about 5.5 inches in length and about 4.5-10 ounces in weight.

The lowland streaked tenrec is found only on the rainforest-covered eastern side of Madagascar. It is also found in agricultural areas. It eats mostly worms, but has also been known to eat other small invertebrates.

Lowland streaked tenrec reproduction is a strange affair. Females are only able to have babies up to a year after birth, and it is unique among tenrecs that they are able to reproduce within the same season that they are born. If females aren't in the making-babies mood, they will indicate this by raising their quills against males as well as sticking their spines in the males' genitals. Ouch! This likely gets the message across pretty clearly.

The lowland streaked tenrec has distinctive yellow steaks down its back
lowland streaked tenrec

But probably the most interesting thing about these critters is how they communicate. They do use a variety of common communication signals such as visual, olfactory (smell), auditory, and touch. But they also use stridulation, which is when specialized body parts are rubbed together to create sound. This is the same method of noise-making that animals like crickets and cicadas use to create their well-known nighttime music.

Web-Footed Tenrec

If lowland streaked tenrecs look like a cross between a shrew and a hedgehog, then web-footed tenrecs look like wet rats. Found along streams and rivers in the eastern highlands, this aquatic tenrec travels around via water corridors.

You shouldn't be surprised that they have webbed feet, which is helpful for navigating these waterways. They are covered in dark brown to black fur that has reddish-black undertones on their backs and yellowish-gray undertones on their undersides. They range in size from about 5-6.5 inches in length, and about 2-4 ounces in weight. They have small ears and eyes, and a tail that can be as long as the entire body of the animal.

The web-footed tenrec is a mysterious creature, and not much is known about its reproduction, lifespan, or communication behaviors. What is known is that they are nocturnal, or active at night, that their diet is largely comprised of insects, and that they can dive underwater for a whopping 10-15 seconds while looking for food. Once they get a hold of something to eat, they bring it to the surface, turn over onto their backs, and kick their prey item until it is unresponsive! They then take it to a nearby rock to chow down.

Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec

Despite its name, the lesser hedgehog tenrec isn't even remotely related to actual hedgehogs. It does look quite similar though, with short spikes covering its back side, small eyes, and a pointy snout. They are similar in size to the other tenrecs we've talked about, ranging from about 5-7 inches long, and weighing about 4-7 ounces.

Despite its appearance and name, the lesser hedgehog tenrec is not related to hedgehogs
lesser hedgehog tenrec

Contrary to the wet habitats of the lowland streaked and web-footed tenrecs, the lesser hedgehog tenrec lives in the dry forested areas of southern and southwestern Madagascar. They are nocturnal insectivores that forage for food both on the ground and in trees. They can't see very well, but their strong senses of touch and hearing make up for their poor eyesight.

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