Macroscelididae – Elephant shrews

Who would’ve thought elephants had such rat-like close relatives

The Macroscelididae family, more commonly known as elephant shrews or sengis, comprises small, intriguing mammals that captivate with their unique blend of features reminiscent of several animals, yet they belong to a distinct lineage altogether. Despite their common name, elephant shrews are neither elephants nor shrews but belong to an order of their own, characterized by a fascinating evolutionary link to much larger mammals like elephants, manatees, and aardvarks. This connection is a testament to the diversity and complexity of mammalian evolution.

Elephant shrews are predominantly found in the diverse landscapes of Africa, ranging from dense forests to dry savannas and rocky outcrops. These adaptable creatures are small, typically the size of a rat, and are renowned for their elongated, flexible snouts that bear a superficial resemblance to an elephant’s trunk. This distinctive snout is highly mobile and sensitive, allowing elephant shrews to deftly explore their surroundings and locate their insect prey. Their diet primarily consists of insects, spiders, and occasionally seeds and fruits, which they adeptly capture using their quick movements and acute sense of smell.

One of the most remarkable physical attributes of elephant shrews is their long, powerful hind legs, relative to their body size, which enable them to leap and bound with great agility. This locomotive ability is a key survival mechanism, allowing them to escape predators with sudden, zigzagging jumps swiftly. The terms “macro” (long) and “scelidos” (legs) in their scientific name, Macroscelididae, aptly describe these agile jumpers.

Despite their small size, elephant shrews have complex behaviors and social structures. Some species are monogamous, forming long-term pair bonds, a rarity among small mammals. They maintain and defend territories, using a network of trails they clear of debris for easy travel and escape from predators. Contents markings and vocalizations facilitate communication between mates or within their territories, underscoring their sophisticated interaction mechanisms.