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It seems like only the largest animals found in Africa get the most attraction from the world. We’ve all seen a good lion, giraffe, or rhino, and while there’s no debating their majesty, it’s a little unfair that they get all the attention, doesn’t it? Africa’s full of some of the most intriguing specimens found on Earth, it’s only fair that they share the spotlight with some of the smaller creatures too.
If we’re talking about shining the limelight on creatures of smaller stature, then chances are the elephant shrew is among the more readily recognized species on the market. Elephant shrews have attained their own level of prestige owing to their unique noses, mannerisms, and small degree of internet fame.
Where the Elephant Shrew?
The elephant shrew, belonging to the family Macroscelididae, is small mammal, enough to comfortably fit in the palm of your hand, that are found across all of Africa. Their common name stems from their various physical characteristics they coincidentally share with other animals. They have long snouts, much like an elephant, and small, round bodies similar to a shrew, hence the name.
Despite their moniker, the elephant shrew is not actually a true shrew, only sharing superficial similarities with the animal. If anything, they’re more closely related to the elephant than the latter species of their name. Before the 1990’s, the elephant shrew was classified with the Soricidae family, which included shrews. However, later in the decade, it was discovered in their genetic sequence that their relatives lie among anteaters, aardvarks, and elephants.
Elephants shrews are split up into 19 different species, each adapted to their own territory. An elephant shrew that you find in the northern, arid regions of Africa will not be the same you find in the forest. Most of these differences are going to primarily be superficial, such as coat coloring.
Along with their adorably round bodies, prehensile snout, and long tail, elephant shrews have long, skinny legs. These legs provide them with tremendous jumping power for their size, which helps them traverse the undergrowth and rocky settings of their habitats. Their jumping ability has earned them the nickname “the jumping shrew.”
The Elephant Shrew Diet
Small creatures, while it would be wonderful to think they can eat large portions, generally don’t. The elephant shrew is no exception to the rule, but is a decent hunter when it come to bugs. While technically the elephant shrew is an omnivore, and capable of eating anything palatable, it’s predominantly and preferentially an insectivore.
When we say preferentially, we mean almost entirely. While on occasion an elephant shrew will snack on various fruits or leaves, their diets are almost entirely composed of tiny insects, mostly those small enough to fit in their mouths. Anything too big becomes a hassle for them to chew through and swallow. However, if an elephant shrew decides to, they will pin larger meals to the ground and tear through them with their cheek teeth.
It’s a messy way to eat, but doing so rips their meals into bite-sized chunks that they can then eat off the ground. Their long tongues do most of the work lapping up their meals. This is a very similar style of eating compared to others in its family tree, namely aardvarks and anteaters.
Finding their food is where their unusually long snout comes into play. Due to its biological design and length, it’s ideal for scoping out insects in the earth or hollows. Most any insect is fair game, including spiders, millipedes, earthworms, beetles, and other insects of similar or smaller size.
Unlike many other animals of similar sizes, elephant shrews are diurnal creatures, meaning they’re
An animal is no good if it can’t take care of itself in the wild. That’s how the dodo went.
The elephant shrew is a keen master of escaping predators. Once they find a home for themselves, they proceed to wander out in search of food, forming distinct paths in the underbrush. These paths provide a direct path back home to safety, in case they get spooked or are threatened by new arrivals.
Should a predator mark an elephant shrew as its next meal, the elephant shrew will immediately make a break for its homestead. Because they tend to follow the beaten paths they make while scouring for bugs, the lack of obstacles to slow them down becomes a moot point. Taking off, they’re home in no time through a perfect escape route, taking shelter in secure burrows and nests.
Their ability to outrun predators with relative success is derived from more than their effective cleared escape routes. Remember their distinct long hind legs. While these limbs provide ample ability for long, impressive jumps, they also provide the speed necessary to get home as quickly as possible. Their athleticism when it comes to this places them amongst the fastest small mammals found in the world.
Unlike many other animals of similar sizes, elephant shrews are diurnal creatures, meaning they’re most active during the day. While contemporaries may have evolved to operate during the night, where the cover of darkness provides an extra variable of protection, elephant shrews have proven to be capable of survival during the daylight hours. Their ability to escape makes up for the need for extra reduced visibility, and hunting for insects during the daytime produces more food.
All of these factors combined – their wary attention to surrounding threats, powerful hind legs, and well crafted routes home – make the elephant shrew hard to find by both predators and humans. Of course, you can’t forget that their fur is a natural camouflage, allowing them to effectively blend in with surrounding dense underbrush. The elephant shrew is a testament to successful adaptation in their environment, giving them the best opportunity to survival considering their diminutive size.
Elephant Shrew Habitats
For being an animal that seems like it would thrive mostly in heavily wooded, densely packed environments, the elephant shrew can actually be found in all manner of habitats across Africa. The various subspecies in the Macroscelididae family have adapted themselves to the diverse African environments, from wooded areas to the rocky, dry regions in the north.
Their habitat diversity, while attributed to biological evolution in their respective regions, also has a lot to do with their diet. Insects are found in every region on the globe, save perhaps Antarctica and the North Pole. With a diet so dedicated to a universally available food source, elephant shrews are able to take a well-designed insect-hunting body to any corner of Africa and thrive.
Among the various environments the elephant shrew can be found in include:
- Open Plains
- Semi-arid regions
- Dense woodlands
Their vast adaptation to most any environment found in Africa isn’t hyperbole.
Their small size affords them a capability to find a homestead in any one of these environments. Their homes are generally either going to be leaf nests that are remade frequently, burrows dug out of the ground, or natural crevices. They will use the homes of other animals that have abandoned their residence there as well.
Elephant shrews will often form monogamous relationships with others of its kind to reproduce, raise babies, and help protect their homes. Though these attachments may last for their lifetimes, they aren’t social animals. They will frequently fight with any intruders that infringe on their territory.
Elephant Shrew Summarization
Elephant shrew are, objectively, very cute animals. They have long snouts, similar to their relatives the anteater and elephant, and are among the faster small mammals due to their powerful hind legs. They’re primarily insectivores, devouring any manner of bug they’re able to sniff out with their acute senses, and their unique pathways allow them an easy escape route if threatened.
While elephant shrews are not in immediate danger of extinction, they are being threatened by habitat fragmentation due to deforestation and human encroachment. This fragmentation makes it increasingly difficult for elephant shrews to find proper homes and mates. However, despite this threat, the elephant shrew remains a species of Least Concern on the IUCN list.