Solenodon and almiquí: small but tough

These tiny mammals are endemic to the island of Hispaniola (Solenodon paradoxus), where they are known as solenodonts, and to Cuba (Atopogale cubana), where they are called almiquí. They are considered living fossils.

They resemble shrews. In fact, they are one of their closest relatives along with moles. They measure about 30 cm (plus about 15-25 cm of tail) and weigh between 700 g and 1 kg. Their predators are usually the Spanish boa, the barn owl or the Stygian owl.

hispaniolan solenodon - almiqui ofcuba-solenodon cubanus-solenodon paradaxus-venomous mammals
Solenodonte paradoxus. Wikipedia

They are nocturnal and feed mainly on worms, insects and, occasionally, lizards, frogs, or birds. However, their most notable peculiarity is that they are venomous. Their salivary glands are responsible for producing the venom. This travels to the lower incisors through a duct covered by enamel, from where the apparently harmless animal will inject it into its prey during the bite. Both the solenodonts of Hispaniola and the Cuban almiquí are the only mammals with a venom delivery system that uses a modified lower incisor. Although their venom is not lethal to humans, it is lethal to small vertebrates, causing hypotension, paralysis, convulsions, ocular swelling, and death.

hispaniolan solenodon - almiqui ofcuba-solenodon cubanus-solenodon paradaxus-venomous mammals
Mandible of a solenodont showing the inside of the incisor modified for the injection of venom. Carnegie Museum Of Natural History

Like moles, they have reduced vision compensated by a good sense of smell. They have long and flexible snouts that, together with their claws, are also used for digging in the soil.

Females give birth to 1 to 3 offspring although they only have two mammary glands located in the inguinal area, when in other mammals they are usually found in the pectoral area or along the abdominal area. 

The introduction of dogs, cats, ferrets, and mongooses and the destruction of the habitat have had negative impacts on the populations of these species. They are currently in danger of extinction.

hispaniolan solenodon - almiqui ofcuba-solenodon cubanus-solenodon paradaxus-venomous mammals
Solenodon cubanus. Hokkaido University


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