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Solenodon paradoxus, also known as the Hispaniolan Solenodon, is only found on the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and was unknown to science until 1833, when it was first described by Brandt. There was also another species present on the island, the S. marcanoi, which became extinct after the initial colonization period. Cuba has another extant species, the Atopogale cubana, known as the almiqu?? (ahl-mee-KEE), which used to be congeneric with the S. paradoxus, but was recently given a genus of its own by taxonomists. All solenodon species belong to the Insectivora order and the Solenodontidae family.
Description and Behaviour
S. paradoxus looks much like an oversized shrew. It weighs between 0.6 and 1.0 Kg, and is 28 to 33 cm long (the tail measures an extra 25 cm). It has brownish-red fur on most of its body, the underside being a lighter shade. The tail, legs, snout and eartips are hairless. The forelegs are noticeably more developed than the hind ones, but all have strong claws useful for digging.
The head is very big in relation to its body, and it has a long rostrum with tiny eyes and ears, partially hidden by the body fur. An interesting singularity is the os proboscis, a bone located on the tip of the rostrum that supports the snout cartilage. The dental formula for the species is 3/3, 1/1, 3/3, 3/3 = 40. The second lower incisor has a narrow groove (Solenodon derives from the Greek "grooved tooth") through which a venomous saliva secreted by the submaxillary gland flows, making the solenodon one of only a handful of venomous mammals.
Sexes are similar. Males have an unexposed penis and the testes are hidden deep within the abdominal cavity. Females, even though they have an irregular estrus period that is apparently unrelated to seasonal changes, may have two litters of 1-3 young per year. Usually, only 2 of the offspring (weighing 40 to 55 grams) survive, because the female only has two teats, which are found in a most unusual place: near the buttocks of the animal. The young are weaned after 75 days, though the young may sometimes remain with the parents while subsequent litters are born and raised, making it possible that up to 8 animals share the same burrow. Solenodons may fight each other on first meeting, but eventually they establish a dominance relationship and live together in captivity in relative harmony.
As well as having a venomous bite, a solenodon has glands in the armpits and in the groin which allegedly give off a goat-like smell. It readily defends itself against one of its own kind and is apparently not immune to its own venom since animals have been seen to die after fighting and sustaining minor wounds. It also probably attacks other animals savagely judging from the way a captive solenodon was reported to have attacked a young chicken and tore it to pieces with its strong claws, before eating it. In moments of excitement it may grunt like a pig or give bird-like cries, but when pursued it stays motionless and hides its head, making it easy to capture.
One reason why the solenodon was unknown to science for so long is that it is nocturnal in its habits, an effect of this being it's highly developed senses of hearing, smell and touch. Also, they are not very numerous, so their influence in an ecosystem is practically nil. During day hours, the hide in their burrows, trees and hollowed-out logs or in caves, remaining hidden from view. When they do come out, they run on their toes with a stiff ungainly waddle, following an erratic almost zigzag course. The local people claim that solenodons never run in a straight line. Moreover, when a solenodon is alarmed and tries to put on speed it is as likely as not to trip over its own toes or even tumble head-over-heels.
Solenodons eat a wide variety of animals, like arthropods, worms and snails, as well as small reptiles; they may also feed on roots, fruits and foliage (however, a study found that solenodons refused all forms of vegetation). They probe the earth with their snout, and dig or rip open rotten logs with thier claws. Solenodons in captivity have been seen to bathe often and to drink only when bathing. Perhaps the long snout makes any other way difficult.
Considering that the solenodon is a slow mover, clumsy runner, with no adaptation to predators and poor means of defense (it didn't need to evolve them given the lack of native enemies), it's accepted that once feral dog (Canis lupus familiaris) and cat (Felis catus) populations started stablishing, added to the intruduction of the small Indian mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus) as a means to supposedly control rats in sugar cane fields, its future began to look bleak.
The solenodon's habitat is usually wooded or brushy areas, frequently close to developped agricultural land, where they are able to dig their complex underground burrows. The loss of adequate environment, added to the predation by introduced species has contributed to making the solenodon a critically endangered animal, whose numbers have dropped dramatically during the last decades. As a matter of fact, it was considered to be practically extinct until 1907, when it was found living in the interior of the island. It was not considered to be in immediate danger early in the twentieth century. In 1966 it was known to occur in several localities in the Dominican Republic. As of 1981, after extensive searching, it was concluded that the solenodon was 'functionally extinct' in Haiti, persisting only in the remote mountains of the south. In 1987 it still occurred in both countries but was thought to be particularly threatened in Haiti. It still occurred in both countries as of 1996. The most recent sightings in the wild (with photographic evidence) were in early 2005 (E.M. Fern??ndez et al.).
Currently, the solenodon may only be surviving in two places in the Domincan Republic: Jaragua and Del Este National Parks. Its presence in Los Haitises National Park is inferred but unconfirmed.