Rare venomous mammal captured in Cuba

September 21, 2012

By RYOKO TAKEISHI/ Staff Writer

After a 10-year search, researchers confirmed the existence of a venomous shrew-like species known as a “living fossil” and believed to have become extinct decades ago, team members said in Tokyo on Sept. 19.

The team of Japanese and Cuban researchers caught seven solenodons at the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park in Cuba in March and April, they said.

The search started in 2003, when a Cuban solenodon was spotted in the park. The capture of the creatures allowed the researchers to better study the solenodon’s behavior.

The Japanese researchers, including those from Hokkaido University, said solenodons, which were also native to Haiti, feed mainly on insects and use their venomous saliva to immobilize and kill prey.

The Cuban solenodon is about 30 centimeters long and weighs around 700 grams. They make high-pitched squeals, dig burrows with their front claws and can communicate with each other using sonar, they said.

Ancestors of solenodons date back to the Jurassic period (140 million to 200 million years ago) when dinosaurs dominated the Earth, and they have retained many of the primitive features of its fingers and teeth, the researchers said.

The skeleton of the solenodon has remained unchanged for 65 million years, a period that started when the dinosaurs were wiped out, ushering in the age of mammals.

Only a few dozen Cuban solenodons had been captured since they were first discovered in the 1830s. They were believed extinct by the 1970s.

By RYOKO TAKEISHI/ Staff Writer
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A solenodon captured by a joint team of Japanese and Cuban researchers in March was later returned to the forest. (Provided by the research team)

A solenodon captured by a joint team of Japanese and Cuban researchers in March was later returned to the forest. (Provided by the research team)

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  • A solenodon captured by a joint team of Japanese and Cuban researchers in March was later returned to the forest. (Provided by the research team)

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