Afrosoricida – Otter shrews & tenrecs

They’re not what they appear to be; or even what they’re named after

Though they closely resemble the more familiar hedgehogs, opossums, or even otters, these creatures are distinct in their biological heritage and behavior. Tenrecs, with their remarkable spiny coats, range from the diminutive pygmy species to the larger tailless tenrecs, each with a unique ecological niche. Their spikes, reminiscent of a hedgehog’s, are not just for defense; they serve as delicate sensory tools that can detect the faintest vibrations in the environment, alerting these animals to the approach of predators or the presence of prey.

Otter shrews, despite their name, are neither otters nor shrews. With their sleek, silky fur and semi-aquatic habits, they exhibit an otter-like grace in the water. These lithe animals have streamlined bodies that allow them to navigate the waterways of their habitats with agility and speed. Their fur, much like that of true otters, is dense and water-repellent, a vital adaptation for an animal whose life is so closely tied to aquatic environments.

Golden moles, another misnomer within this order, are not true moles at all but share convergent evolutionary traits such as a compact, velvety fur-covered body adapted for a life spent burrowing underground. Their golden sheen comes from the iridescence of their fur, which can glint beautifully under the right light, a characteristic that is unique among mammals.

An anatomical peculiarity of this order is the presence of a cloaca, an orifice serving both excretory and reproductive functions, a feature more commonly associated with birds and reptiles. This evolutionary trait underscores the diverse paths that mammalian life has taken across different environments and ecological pressures.

Primarily nocturnal, the diet of these animals is largely insectivorous, with tenrecs and otter shrews voraciously consuming insects and other small invertebrates, thus playing a crucial role in the control of insect populations within their ecosystems. Their nighttime foraging is a dance of stealth and precision as they navigate the darkness with acute senses honed over millennia.