Thanks to evolution, most of the animals we’re familiar with today have had to undergo a serious transformation since their ancient days. Of course, there was a good explanation for their change in appearance: they needed to adapt to their surroundings in order to survive. Giraffes, for instance, didn’t always have those long necks—those were an evolutionary enhancement!
However, there is one animal that hasn’t evolved in a very long while, and chances are you’ve never even seen it before. This little mammal was scurrying around the feet of dinosaurs back in the day—and it’s still up to its old tricks. Find out how this bizarre creature has lasted so long!
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the solenodon. Chances are you haven’t seen anything like this little guy before, even if he does seem to resemble other rodents like mice and rats. The solenodon’s story couldn’t be more different than theirs, though…
If you’re looking at this creature and thinking it doesn’t seem real, there’s a good reason. The solenodon species has been in existence for 30 million years. That’s right—they’ve walked the Earth since the time of the dinosaurs!
And just like dinosaurs, they have pretty impressive ways of protecting themselves from potential predators. While the solenodon is a mammal, it’s also venomous, making it only one of nine mammalian species with that special distinction.
These little creatures live most of their lives underground, so it should come as no surprise to learn that they are expert burrowers. They can grow to be up to 11 to 13 inches in length and weigh from 1.5 to 2.5 pounds.
Solenodons are almost always some shade of brown, and they definitely resemble a shrew (pictured, left). However, it’s impossible to confuse the two animals once you get a closer look at this ancient marvel…
Even if, at first glance, the solenodon looks familiar, there’s no denying that its appearance is actually quite unique! The biggest differences between the solenodon and the shrew are the solenodon’s scaly tail and its exceptionally tiny set of peepers.
While their eyesight is poor (as you probably suspected!), they more than make up for it. They use their impressive and flexible snouts to sniff out threats—as well as any potential treats upon which they might want to snack.
In fact, a solenodon’s snout is even more unique than that of other animals. It comprises a ball and socket joint that isn’t unlike the human shoulder. This makes it easier for it to explore narrow crevices, as the tip of its snout can move to sense distance.
When it comes to drinking, solenodons are light sippers. Solenodons in captivity have only been witnessed to hydrate while they’re taking a bath. It turns out that if you want to survive for millions of years, you learn how to multitask!
The solenodon might not seem like anything special, but it’s actually remained evolutionarily unchanged for 30 million years. It’s a direct descendent of a mammalian line from the age of the dinosaurs, which split from another line more than 70 million years ago!
When you come from a line so old that it hasn’t evolved with the times, you’re bound to get some pretty weird physical characteristics. For the solenodon, that meant that its nipples are placed directly beside their butts!
The placement of their nipples means that their young nurse from their rear mammaries. Because of this, the solenodon usually only gives birth to one baby at a time. There simply isn’t room for more than one baby to nurse!
If you’re ever lucky enough to see one of these little guys move around, you might notice that they appear to have a weaving, almost clumsy gait. But they’re actually pretty adept when it comes to moving at top speeds.
The solenodon has a highly toxic poison running between its lower teeth that is transferred when it bites its prey. Biologists compare the way the poison is transferred by the solenodon to that of venomous snakes—ouch!
In fact, their teeth are actually uniquely designed to help with the transfer of poison. It’s even how they got their name; solenodon is derived from the Greek words for “grooved teeth.”
Solenodons use this venom—which contains a powerful neurotoxin—to capture their prey. But don’t worry, they aren’t looking for a human to feast upon or anything like that!
The solenodon’s diet is not that different from that of the common shrew. They usually sniff out a healthy mixture of earthworms, invertebrates, reptiles, and amphibians. Yummy!
In their prime about 30 million years ago or so, the solenodon could be found all over North America. That has changed, however; now, they’re only found on the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola.
While they might be small, there’s one easy way to locate a solenodon if you think there might be one nearby. They secrete a musty smell similar to that of a goat, so keep your sniffer on standby if you want to see one in person!
Should you manage to locate a solenodon, do your best to give it some space. You’ll know that it’s feeling threatened by the noise it makes—a gentle snorting that isn’t all that different from the common pig!
Who knew that one small little guy like this could contain so many odd ways of surviving and thriving? Can you imagine having a snout with a flexible joint? Crazy!
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