SENGI – ROCK ELEPHANT SHREW

We have recently been invaded by a very sweet, fascinating little creature. We’ve seen a few now and then over the years, but suddenly, they’re all over the house! My cat, Lola, has presented me with a couple of bodies, but Minx watches them in fascination and follows them with great interest, but they are too small to be considered presents for his Beloved, my youngest son.
We probably have to “do something” about them, but it pains all of us as they are not pests in the usual sense of the word. We also have an infestation of termites and spiders. I think it has to do with strange weather patterns – lots of rain in a season usually very dry! Anyway, for now we’ll let them be, and hope they take eat lots and lots of the termites!

I haven’t been able to get a photo of my own as they are incredibly quick and shy, so I’ve used a Stock photo.

For those who are interested, here’s some more information:

In the South African wilderness, there are quite a few different species of Shrew and Elephant Shrew that can be seen. The Shrews of South Africa are very active rodents and are an exciting creature, if glimpsed, to be watched.

Elephant shrews or jumping shrews are small insectivorous mammals native to Africa, belonging to the family Macroscelididae, in the order Macroscelidea. Their traditional common English name comes from a fancied resemblance between their long noses and the trunk of an elephant, and an assumed relationship with the true shrews (family Soricidae). As it has become plain that the elephant shrews are unrelated to the shrews, the biologist Jonathan Kingdon has proposed that they instead be called sengis, a term derived from the Bantu languages of Africa.

In the past, elephant shrews have been classified with the shrews and hedgehogs as part of the Insectivora; regarded as distant relatives of the ungulates; grouped with the treeshrews; and lumped in with the hares and rabbits in the Lagomorpha. Recent molecular evidence, however, strongly supports a superorder Afrotheria which unites tenrecs, and golden moles with certain mammals that were previously presumed to be ungulates, including hyraxes, sirenians, aardvarks and elephants, as well as the elephant shrews.

Their life span is about two and a half to four years in the wild. The back legs of this rodent are larger than the front legs and when running, the Elephant Shrew does so in hop-like movements.

Appearance

The total body of the Rock Elephant Shrew measures 260 mm and the tail is longer than the head and body length. Weighs about 60 grams. The tail is less hairy than that of the Smith’s Rock Elephant Shrew. Eyes are distinctly ringed with a white band.

The Elephant Shrew gets it’s name from their elongated snout, which is almost trunk-like. Although the size of the trunk varies from one species to another, all are able to twist it about in search of food.

All elephant-shrews eat mainly invertebrates, such as insects, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, and earthworms. An elephant-shrew uses its nose to find prey and uses its tongue to flick small food into its mouth, much like an anteater. Eating large prey can pose somewhat of a challenge for the elephant shrew. For example, a giant elephant-shrew struggling with an earthworm must first pin its prey to the ground with a forefoot. Then, turning its head to one side, it chews pieces off with its cheek teeth, much like a dog chewing a bone. This is a sloppy process, and many small pieces of worm drop to the ground; these are simply flicked up with the tongue. Some elephant-shrews also feed on small amounts of plant matter when available, especially new leaves, seeds, and small fruits

Breeding

The mating period lasts for several days. They have a long gestation period for such a small mammal, which lasts eight weeks. After mating, the pair will return to their solitary habits. The female then will give birth to twins in her nest. At birth the precocial young are fully haired and the eyes are open. Young can walk soon after birth. Only for nursing purposes are the young visited by the mother. After 5 days the young are fed mashed insects with the milk, which are collected and transported in the cheek pouches of the female. The young then slowly start to explore their environment and start to hunt for insects. After about 15 days, the young will begin the migratory phase of their life which lessens the dependency of the young on their mother. Young are sexually mature at five to six weeks of age, and females can produce several litters during their lifespan. The young will then establish their own home ranges (about 1 km2).

Females give birth to mostly two sets of twins during the wet summer months (September to March).

Behaviour

Predominantly a diurnal species, occasionally crepuscular or even nocturnal during bright moonlit nights. Solitary in habits, but occasionally seen in pairs, presumably during mating. Extremely agile, fast and sure-footed in the uneven terrain of their habitats.

When alarmed they communicate by loud foot-drumming and emitting a series of high-pitched squeaks which tail off to a sound that is barely audible. During vocalization with the mouth wide open, the head is held high and the elongated snout is curved back over the muzzle. Secretions from scent glands also form part of their communication system. Such scent glands are situated in the corners of the mouth, behind the ears and at the base of the tail.

Where they are found

Widely distributed in South Africa, occurring in the North West Province, Northern Province, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, the Free State, northern Eastern Cape Province and in the mountain regions of western KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho. This elephant shrew is quite common in most areas and not threatened, although populations are often isolated due to habitat restrictions. It Inhabits areas with rock debris and boulders which offer abundant crevices for refuge and protection from raptors and other predators. Populations of lower densities can also occur on unbroken hill slopes, or isolated rocky outcrops on valley floors and plains.

FUN FACTS

The 17 living species of elephant shrew are more closely related to elephants than shrews. They can be found throughout mainland Africa, with the exception of western Africa and the Saraha.

Elephant shrews are not related to shrews, rabbits, hedgehogs or llamas, as was thought at different times. Scientists finally figured out that these fuzzy, long-trunked creatures are in an order all their own. Not only that, but all 18 species are found exclusively in Africa, just like sea cows, aardvarks, hyraxes and elephants, to which they are related. To eliminate some of the confusion caused by their name – for, as stated, they’re not actually shrews at all – they are sometimes called sengis.

Sengis get really fun to learn about when exploring the details. For example, one species, the checkered elephant shrew, can leap three feet into the air and is a super-fast runner. Another, the golden-rumped elephant shrew (pictured above), has skin that is three times thicker on its bottom than anywhere else. Apparently, this acts a shield to protect against butt-bites when it fights other sengis. Amongst other things, they mate for life and try to scare off black mambas by stamping their feet!

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