Macroscelidea – Elephant shrews

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

Macroscelidea, home to the quaint and peculiar creatures known as elephant shrews or sengis, presents a curious case of evolutionary kinship. Despite their common name, these small, agile mammals bear a closer genetic relation to the majestic elephants than to the shrews they superficially resemble. They are a striking example of convergent evolution, where unrelated species evolve similar traits, like the elongated nose of the elephant shrew, which is reminiscent of an elephant’s trunk and can be wiggled and wielded with comparable skill.

Elephant shrews, adorned with a coat that ranges from dusky gray to reddish-brown, are built for life on the move. Their elongated limbs are well-adapted for rapid bounding, an attribute that has earned them the ‘macroscelides’ nomenclature, meaning ‘long legs’. This remarkable limb structure is not just for swift terrestrial movement; it’s also a tool for survival, enabling them to leap away from predators with astonishing speed and agility.

In terms of diet, these insectivorous mammals exhibit a discerning palate, favoring a diet rich in small arthropods. Their elongated snouts are not just for show; they serve as precise instruments for foraging, rooting out insects from the crevices and leaf litter of their habitats. When it comes to nurturing their young, elephant shrews exhibit a tender side. Parents are known to prepare a nutritious concoction of insects mashed with milk, a wholesome meal to ensure the well-being and growth of their offspring.

The life of an elephant shrew is not without its challenges. Despite their agility and acute senses, they are a link in the food chain, predated upon by a variety of creatures. Their survival is a daily testament to their evolutionary adaptations, their speed, and their wits.