Video: The “Darwin’s Finch” of Mammals

So, last April, I posted a video about tenrecs. They’re neat little creatures that live in Madagascar, that I’ve like since I was a kid. I’m not certain, but I think I first read about them in the magazine Ranger Rick. When I say “like”, I think it’s worth noting that I mean in an aesthetic sense. If I “liked” them by learning about them, I probably wouldn’t have made this post.

I’ve always thought of tenrecs as insectivores – basically a form of shrew, but given their location, I suppose I should have known better. It turns out that they’re in the very, very small group of placental mammals that have a cloaca (apparently some actual shrews have one, which I also did not know). One way in which they’re very different from shrews, is that they have a slower metabolism, which means that while some shrews can starve to death within a 24 hour period, tenrecs, presumably including ancestral tenrecs, could survive the 400 kilometer sea journey from mainland Africa to Madagascar. I called them the “Darwin’s Finch” of mammals in the title, because since arriving on that island, they’ve branched out into a surprising diversity of body forms and ecological niches. The upside of neglecting to learn everything about organisms I like, is that I get to keep learning cool new facts about them, and take some of you along for the ride!


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