Physical characteristics

At first glance, a typical solenodon resembles a rabbit-sized shrew, with a shrew's characteristic long, conical, whisker-studded snout, even more pronounced in the solenodon. Cuban solenodons are slightly smaller, on average, than His-paniolan solenodons. An adult Hispaniolan solenodon can weigh up to 2.4 lb (1,100 g), its combined head and body length can reach 15 in (39 cm) and the tail length, 8 in (21 cm). An adult Cuban solenodon's maximum weight is 1.7 lb (800 g), and its maximum head and body length is 14 in (36 cm). The extinct Solenodon arredondoi was much larger. Its weight, based on fossil remains, has been roughly estimated at 3.3-4.4 lb (1,500-2,000 g), and its head and body length at

The Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus) is considered Endangered. (Photo by N. Smythe/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

18-22 in (45-55 cm). There is no sexual dimorphism in the living species of solenodon (i.e., no differences between the sexes in size, shape, or coloration).

The solenodons show a puzzling mix of primitive and derived traits. Among the primitive characters are a poisonous bite and the ability to echolocate. Solenodon sight is poor, but hearing, olfactory, and tactile senses are acute. Derived

The Cuban solenodon (Solenodon cubanus) was thought to be extinct until the mid 1970s. The Burmese mongoose and feral cats are believed to be the cause of the reduction of the Cuban solenodon. (Photo by J. A. Hancock/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

traits include longevity, low birth frequency, low number of young per litter, and the os proboscis bone in the Hispan-iolan solenodon.

The eyes are tiny and shrew-like. The large ears partially protrude from the fur. The legs are relatively long, and well-muscled. Each of all four paws carries five digits with large, strong claws.

The fur is dense, coarser in the Hispaniolan solenodon, finer and softer in the Cuban solenodon. Fur color in S. paradoxus ranges from brown through reddish brown to yellowish brown on the upper, dorsal body, with a lighter underside. The fur of S. cubanus varies from dark brown to black, with a white or yellowish face, snout, and shoulders. The forehead in both species is sparsely covered with hair, while the ears, legs, snout, and scaly, rat-like tail are nearly hairless. The snout sprouts long vibrissae, or sensory whiskers, along its length.

Individuals of both species carry scent glands in the armpits and groin. In females, the two mammae are located in the inguinal (groin) region. In males, the penis, except during mating, and the testes are carried within the abdominal cavity.

In all individuals of both species, the lower second incisors are grooved to channel poison. The name solenodon, meaning "slotted tooth," is based on this feature. The grooves connect with a duct that supplies a poisonous neurotoxin from glands below the incisors. Some species of shrews carry similar modified teeth and poison.

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