Now here’s a weird-looking little beastie:
It’s a solenodon (although to me it looks a bit like those big rats – the Rodents of Unusual Size – in the fire-swamp scences of The Princess Bride… gosh, I enjoyed that movie!). And its chief claim to fame is that it’s a venomous mammal. Snakes, blue-ringed octopuses, spiders… there are a lot of venomous animals around, but venomous mammals are actually rather rare. (The only other one I can think of is the platypus.)
While the platypus has venomous spurs on its hindlegs, the solenodon (there are two extant species, one in Cuba & one in Haiti) delivers its poison by biting, using grooves in modified lower incisor teeth as conduits. The image below shows the inner (lingual – closest to the tongue) side of a solenodon lower jaw. The other teeth you can see are molars, typical of the sort you find in other insectivorous animals.
Solenodon paradoxus grooved incisors, from Caribbean Palaeobiology
The venom is produced in modified salivary glands & must be fairly potent stuff – the Science article that first caught my eye is illustrated by an image of a scientist wearing kevlar gloves to handle one of these strange animals! Not that being venomous has done them much good. Solenodons have been driven close to extinction, partly because of predation by introduced mongooses (mongeese?). Habitat destruction has probably had something to do with it as well. Now it seems that a research team, led by scientists from the UK, is surveying the Haitian species’ populations, hoping to learn enough about their distribution & genetics to come up with a viable plan for saving these unusual animals.
I’m glad I found out about solenodons – they are such strange & wonderful creatures & the world would be a less interesting place without them.