Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus)

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Hispaniolan solenodon in leaf litter
IUCN Red List species status – Endangered ENDANGERED

Top facts

  • The Hispaniolan solenodon is one of only a few mammal species capable of producing toxic saliva, which it uses to immobilise its invertebrate prey.
  • The distinctive long snout of the Hispaniolan solenodon is attached to the skull with a unique ball-and-socket joint, giving it great flexibility.
  • The Hispaniolan solenodon belongs to an ancient group of mammals and is one of only two solenodon species alive today.
  • The Hispaniolan solenodon is relatively long-lived, potentially reaching 11 years of age.
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Hispaniolan solenodon fact file

Hispaniolan solenodon description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderSoricomorpha
FamilySolenodontidae
GenusSolenodon (1)

This ancient and distinctive mammal, capable of secreting toxic saliva, faces very real and immediate threats to its survival (2).  One of only two solenodons in existence, the Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus) resembles a large, stocky shrew, and has a distinctive, elongated snout that extends well beyond the jaw.  A unique ball-and-socket joint attaches the snout to the skull allowing remarkable flexibility and mobility (2).  The Hispaniolan solenodon has coarse, grizzled grey-brown fur which varies in pattern from one individual to another (2) (3) (4).  The stiff, muscular tail is grey except for the base and tip which are whitish.  It has long, stout sharp claws, particularly well-developed forelimbs (2), and it walks with a stiff, waddling gait (3).

Also known as
Haitian solenodon.
Spanish
Solenodon De La Española.
Size
Head-body length: 28.4 – 32.8 cm (2)
Weight
700 – 1000 g (2)
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Hispaniolan solenodon biology

The Hispaniolan solenodon is nocturnal, secretive and rare, and so, unsurprisingly, is rarely seen and has not been widely studied (2).  It is capable of climbing near-vertical surfaces but spends most of its time searching for food on the ground.  It uses its flexible snout to explore cracks and crevices, and its massive claws to dig under rocks, bark and soil, for invertebrates such as beetles, crickets, insect larvae, earthworms and termites (2)

The Hispaniolan solenodon is also an opportunistic scavenger and may prey on amphibians, reptiles and small birds if or when the opportunity arises.  Indeed, local people believe it to eat snakes and chickens (5), and such remains have been found in solenodon faeces, although this may be the result of scavenging dead animals (2).  It lunges at its chosen prey, pinning it down with its strong forelimbs, and then scoops up the prey with its lower jaw.  A bite from the solenodon injects the victim with toxic saliva from its lower incisors and renders the prey immobile (2).  Potential animal predators of the Hispaniolan solenondon include boas and birds of prey (namely owls) (2) (7).

Solenodons have a long life span, possibly around 11 years, and a low reproductive rate.  The female gives birth to one or two young in a burrow (2), which can be an extensive system of tunnels in which they forage and nest (3).  During the first two months of life the young remain close to their mother and may accompany her on foraging excursions, hanging on to her elongated teats by their mouth (2).  

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Hispaniolan solenodon range

This rare mammal occurs only in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, on the island of Hispaniola (2).

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Hispaniolan solenodon habitat

The Hispaniolan solenodon inhabits a variety of different forests (2).

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Hispaniolan solenodon status

The Hispaniolan solenodon is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered

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Hispaniolan solenodon threats

Out of approximately 25 endemic land (non-flying) mammal species that once inhabited Hispaniola only two survive to this day: the solenodon and hutia (3) (7).  Before Europeans arrived on the island, the Hispaniolan solenodon was one of the dominant carnivores on Hispaniola (1) (2), despite some evidence that suggests that the original occupants of Hispaniola (Amerindians) hunted this species for food (3) (7).  Today, however, the solenodon is thought to be threatened by predation from introduced cats, dogs and mongooses brought to the island with the arrival of the Europeans (1) (2).  Even back in 1907, when a Mr Verill attempted to find the solenodon in the Dominican Republic, he attributed its restricted range to the presence of the mongoose, and felt that it was only a question of time before the mongoose would cause the solenodon’s extinction (5).  The destruction of forests on the island also poses a significant threat to the solenodon, an animal which is particularly vulnerable to any negative impact due to its low reproductive rate (1) (2)

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Hispaniolan solenodon conservation

There is thought to be little hope for this species in Haiti (2), but in the Dominican Republic, the Hispaniolan solenodon is known to occur in several areas (6).  These areas still face threats from logging, agriculture and cattle ranching; however, both international conservation organisations (for example, The Nature Conservancy and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust) and national conservation organisations (for example, Sociedad Ornitologica de la Hispaniola and Grupo Jaragua) are working to address these threats and implement management plans for protected areas (6).  The focus of efforts should be to conserve this species in protected forest reserves; however, the enormous pressure from increasing human populations on Hispaniola may mean that the survival of the Hispaniolan solenodon ultimately depends on zoos (2), although, as yet, captive breeding of this unique mammal has not been successful (7).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For further information on the Hispaniolan solenodon and its conservation see:

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Authentication

Dr Jose Nunez-Mino, Field Project Manager, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Hispaniola Endemic Land Mammals Project (Darwin Initiative).
http://www.thelastsurvivors.org/

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Glossary

Carnivores
Flesh-eating.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone.
Larvae
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Nocturnal
Active at night.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (March 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Nicholl, M.E.(2006) Solenodons. In: Macdonald, D.W. (Ed.) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. OxfordUniversity Press, Oxford.
  3. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World. Sixth Edition. JohnsHopkins University Press, Baltimoreand London.
  4. Dr Jose Nunez-Mino (March 2010) Pers. comm.
  5. Woods, C.A. (1976) Solenodon paradoxus in Southern Haiti. Journal of Mammalogy, 57(3): 591-592.
  6. The Nature Conservancy: Parks in Peril (October, 2007)
    http://parksinperil.org/wherewework/caribbean/dominicanrepublic/index.html
  7. Ottenwalder, J.A. (1991) The Systematics, Biology, and Conservation of Solenodon. PhD Thesis, University of Florida. 
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Image credit

Hispaniolan solenodon in leaf litter  
Hispaniolan solenodon in leaf litter

© Eladio M. Fernandez

Eladio Fernandez
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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