Weird & Wonderful Vol 3: Streaked Tenrecs [Hemicentetes semispinosus]

The island of Madagascar is one of many biological marvels. The eastern, tropical lowland forests are home to one of its many bizarre little mammals – the streaked tenrec.

Tenrecs that most people know look a lot like hedgehogs, but they are far more diverse as a group, ranging quite a lot in appearance and habits. They’re only found on Madagascar, believed to have evolved from a common ancestor that rafted from Africa somewhere around 30 million years ago. Their closest relatives are African otter shrews.

The streaked tenrec belongs to the subfamily of spiny tenrecs. They are quite easily recognisable due to their vibrant black and yellow colouration. But there’s more to these animals than just funky colours. Of all the tenrec species, they are actually considered to be the most specialised.

Firstly, they have sensory hairs along their back that act in a similar way to whiskers. It is thought that these serve as part of its semi fossorial adaptations, as well as increased musculature on the forearms. The hands and many of the digits are also elongated to aid its digging.

While digging, they will prey on earthworms, or whatever edible invertebrates it comes across, but they’ll also eat fruit. They venture out of underground burrows usually at dusk.

Streaked tenrecs have keratinous quills that make sound; thought to be useful for communication between mother and young, or a warning to potential predators. They do this by creating a high frequency sound when the tips of the quills rub together. The sound they make is too high to be perceived by human ears.

The streaked tenrec is the only mammal known to use this ‘stridulation’ – rubbing together body parts to make sound, such as a cricket – to generate sounds. They are not a widely understood species, so most theories on the sounding behaviour are speculative. The sounding quills cannot grow back, unlike the others on their body which are often headbutted into predators, such as fossa and mongoose, or competitors. As for the sounds, they provide a method of communication with conspecifics for up to several metres distance.

Reproduction for this species usually takes place between October and December, but this can change depending on environmental conditions such as food abundance.

Female H. semispinosus can have up to 11 young, though it is usually 5 to 8. That’s still quite a surprising amount for a mammal that weighs less than 300g.

Weird & Wonderful Vol 3: Streaked Tenrecs [Hemicentetes semispinosus]

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