Most Tenrecidae are forest dwelling animals, particularly in the humid forests of eastern Madagascar. The major exceptions are the genera Tenrec, Setifer, Hemicentetes, and Echinops that can also be found in human-created grasslands or pseudosteppe covering significant portions of the island, and the first three genera also occur in agricultural areas and
near human habitations. Further, Tenrec and Setifer occur in all of the natural forest formations on the island. Most Ten-recidae species are terrestrial, although certain Microgale are best considered scansorial and two genera of spiny tenrecs (Echinops and Setifer) climb in vegetation several meters off the ground.
Microgale, with its currently recognized 18 species, is largely confined to the humid forest formations of the island. One member of this genus, Microgale brevicaudata, also occurs in the dry deciduous forests and spiny bush of the western and southern portion of the island. Two genera (Echinops and Geogale), each with a single species, are also confined to these drier native vegetal formations. Limnogale is confined to streams within native forest within the eastern humid forests and is the only largely aquatic mammal on the island. Microgale pusilla and Oryzorictes hova can be found in forested areas with wet soils or in marshlands, including those converted to rice paddy, outside of forest formations. Micropotamogale are found in upland forest streams of western and central Africa, while Potamogale velox occurs in rivers, streams, and swamps in the rainforests of tropical Africa.
At certain sites in the eastern humid forest, the density and diversity of Tenrecidae are notably high. For example at one forested site near the village of Tsinjoarivo in the eastern central portion of the island, 17 species of Lipotyphla (including 16 tenrecids) were found in sympatry. This high density in a relatively small block of forest is perhaps without parallel anywhere else in the world.
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