When the little animal called the solenodon was first discovered, it was thought to be merely a strange looking and large shrew. It was even placed in the shrew family. It was only later, when the strange critter was studied, that it was discovered that it isn’t a shrew at all.
Solenodons exist naturally in the wild in only two places; Cuba and Hispaniola, and they have common names that reflect this: Cuban solenodons and Hispaniola solenodons. Although not a great deal of study has been done on the population in Cuba, they don’t differ much from those found in Hispaniola. The main difference is the Cuban solenodon tends to be a little smaller.
This animal bears a resemblance to a shrew, which is why there was an initial confusion. The head and body are about a foot long and they have a mostly hairless tail that is about eight inches long, rather like that of a rat. Solenodons weigh up to two pounds, with exceptionally large individuals roughly double this weight.
This animal has scent glands in the groin and armpits that give it an odor, particularly when agitated, that is described as being goat-like.
The feet are also largely hairless and have five toes on each foot, each ending in strong, sharp claws.
Solenodons have tiny eyes, mostly naked ears, and long snouts. The snout is similar to many shrews, except that it tends to be longer than in shrews. Unlike in shrews, though, the flexible snout is supported by cartilage. Like shrews, these animals have venomous saliva. The venom is similar to that found in some snakes. In fact, the incisor teeth have grooves down which the venom can flow. This is also similar to some snakes. The head of a solenodon seems oversized for the body size.
The structure of the incisors is what gives the animal its name. Solenodon means “groove toothed”.
These critters are insectivores, but they also eat worms, other invertebrates, reptiles, and even carrion. They are opportunistic feeders and have been known to gorge themselves to the point where they could barely move.
The reproduction is slow and solenodons usually have only two litters per year, commonly of one or two babies. The mother has only two teats and they are arranged far back on the animal, nearly to the rump.
Males sometimes fight one another and even an insignificant bite often leads to death, due to the venom. The males and females have radically different temperaments, however. If danger approaches, males will often flee. Females will often stand their ground, which leaves them vulnerable to predation. In fact, if a fleeing male is overtaken, it will often stop and remain motionless, making it a simple matter to simply pick it up.
Additionally, these aren’t fast animals and they are rather clumsy when they run. This means that they fall victim to predation quite easily.
The fossil record shows that this animal once existed on the North American continent and it is believed that they lived in North America as far back as 30 million years ago. They are still found in Cuba and Hispaniola primarily because both islands lacked predators. However, that changed when people colonized and cats, dogs, and mongooses were introduced. This animal is now endangered in both locations and extinction is likely at some time in the future, especially since their reproduction is slow and they can’t escape predation very well.