Have you ever seen an elephant shrew? Did you know that compared to other insect-eating mammals, elephant shrews have large brains? Let’s find out what else is cool about this cute animal.
Looking at the elongated snout of this little mammal, you quickly realise where he got his name – definitely from elephants. His long snout looks similar to the trunk of an elephant, and he uses it to find food. His snout can move around, but doesn’t have all the functions of an elephant’s trunk.
The elephant shrew has different names, and is also known as a sengi or jumping shrew.
2. You can’t see me
The elephant shrew is super shy and will rather flee from a threatening situation than fight. He camouflages himself well in nature, due to the colouring of his fur coat. There are different types of elephant shrews and they all vary in shades of brown, grey, black and even a little red. To ensure that you can’t see him easily, he creates pathways under plants and bushes, which he uses as escape routes. This animal tends to be pretty quiet and isn’t very vocal.
3. Catch me if you can
Being one of the fastest small rodents, the elephant shrew can run at almost 29km/h, and he runs this speed along his escape routes – in tall grass and under bushes! The elephant shrew is also very active and continuously maintains his routes. This uses loads of energy, so it is no wonder that he eats so often. So, if he’s not maintaining one of his ‘highways’, he’s searching for food.
4. What’s for dinner?
This little guy can pack away dinner like it’s nobody’s business. The elephant shrew is a bit of a sloppy eater, especially when his prey is on the big side, but he uses his tongue to lick up his mess. His food consists of a variety of insects – he loves bugs, earthworms, spiders, millipedes and centipedes. These creepy crawlies are packed with protein. But the elephant shrew also eats small fruit, seeds and some plants.
5. Small package
The elephant shrew is a small animal and varies between 10-30cm in length, depending on the species. The average weight of the elephant shrew varies between 50 and 500g. Besides the long snout, the elephant shrew also has a long tail and long legs. His tail can measure between 18 and 25cm. He also has large ears and eyes.
6. Social distancing
Socialising is not at the top of the elephant shrew’s agenda. Although the male and female mate for life, they rarely live together and usually have different nests. They don’t like to mingle with other elephant shrews, either, and will put up a fight if their territory is invaded.
The pair has between one and three babies at a time. The mother starts feeding her babies mashed insects when they are about five days old and, after 15 days, the young start venturing out on their own.
There are about 19 different types of elephant shrew, including checked elephant shrews, giant elephant shrews, long-eared elephant shrews, round-eared sengis, and four-toed elephant shrews. Then, there is also the Cape elephant shrew, the Karoo rock elephant shrew and the bushveld elephant shrew, to name a few more. The interesting thing is that the elephant shrew is more closely related to elephants than to other shrews. They were originally classified as shrews due to the way they look, but were classified in their own order in the 1950s.
8. Africa is home
Elephant shrews can be found in many parts of Africa and in almost any habitat – from deserts to forests. You might even find an elephant shrew living among rocky surfaces. Their nests are can be found in fallen tree trunks, rock crevices, tree roots, empty termite holes or under the ground.
One of the species of elephant shrew that was thought to be extinct, the Somali elephant shrew, was recently rediscovered in Djibouti in the north-eastern part of Africa. The good news is that the finding revealed that there are a fair amount of Somali elephant shrews in the area, so the species will most probably survive.
Besides their natural enemies, like snakes or birds of prey, their biggest threats are human urbanisation and deforestation. If an elephant shrew is threatened by one of his natural enemies, he often uses his tail and legs to bang on the ground. If this doesn’t work, he runs for his life.