Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Singular species

Well, dual actually: 2 species (Solenodon paradoxus and Solenodon cubanus), 2 names (solenodon and almiqui), and 2 islands (Hispaniola and Cuba). But what makes this elusive creature stand out is that it's the only mammal to inject venom into its prey through grooves in its incisors (3rd image), and although the poison is not deadly to humans, the bite does pack a punch. Other peculiarities of solenodons:
  • They have extremely long cartilaginous snouts, which in the Hispaniola species are even equipped with a ball-and-socket joint at the base to increase flexibility.
  • Glands in their armpits and groin give off a goat-like smell.
  • When excited, they may grunt like a pig or cry like a bird.
  • In captivity, they are seen to drink only when bathing.
  • The male sex organs reside deep within the abdominal cavity.
  • The females have only 2 teats that are located almost on the buttocks.
  • They have a stiff ungainly waddle and follow an erratic - almost zigzag - course, supposedly never running in a straight line.
  • As they run when alarmed, they are likely to trip over their own toes or tumble head over heels.
Since its discovery in 1861, only 33 Cuban solenodons had ever been caught. Then 3 were captured in the 1970s. A 37th was found in 2003, nicknamed "Alejandrito," examined over 2 days, and released back into the wild. After 3 dead solenodons were found in Hispaniola in 2007, a live one was caught in a trap in 2009 and provided a DNA sample and some rare footage before scientists let it go. This confirmed the existence of a remnant population of these "living fossils" that zig-zagged beneath the feet of the dinosaurs 76 million years ago.

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