Roaming about the islands of Madagascar and the Comoro's, off the shores of Africa's east coast, lives a little known animal that is sometimes
mistaken for a hedgehog. These are the rare and unusual Hedgehog Tenrecs.
In many ways Tenrecs look much like our little African Pygmies, but don't let looks fool you. These are an entirely unrelated spiny mammal.
If it were not for the fact that hedgehogs and Tenrecs inhabit entirely different geographic areas, however, (there are no hedgehogs on any
of the islands inhabited by Tenrecs) they would probably be mistaken for one another.
Like our hedgehogs, Tenrecs, of which there are several different species, have spines. They are also capable of rolling into a ball.
Although they can raise their spines if threatened, the musculature for doing so is far less specialized than that of the hedgehog. They
are slightly smaller than our domestic hedgehogs, weighing in at about 200 grams.
When you take a closer look at these unusual creatures, though, you will begin to notice some major differences between them and hedgehogs.
The most obvious being their short, conical tail that is covered with spines.
They do not breed as readily or as often as most species of hedgehog, raising only one or two litters at most per year. The gestation is
60-70 days and the young are weaned when they are 3-4 weeks of age.
It is in their response to threats from predators, however, that Tenrecs display some rather un-hedgehog like
behavior. At first a
Tenrec will roll into a ball and raise its spines. Some species even engage in a practice known as stridulation - the vibrating of the spines
to produce a rasping sound. They do not, however, click, hiss or jump as hedgehogs do. If these methods
do not work, they will unroll
and then charge and attack the offending creature, using their teeth and powerful jaw muscles to drive it off. This is one animal that
you don't want to upset!
Tenrecs have been in captivity for about the same length of time as hedgehogs, but due to their slow reproductive capabilities, they are
not nearly so numerous or popular. At the present time, there are but a few handful of
Tenrecs in the private hands of exotic animal
breeders here in North America, mainly of the species Setifer setosus, the Greater Hedgehog Tenrec.
Other species include the the Common Tenrec (Tenrec ecaudatus), the Pygmy (or Lesser) Hedgehog Tenrec
(Echinops telfairi) and the Banded Tenrec. (Tenrec ecaudatus hemicentetes)
Tenrecs can be housed just like hedgehogs and, since they too are
insectivores, they can be fed a similar diet. They enjoy the odd mealworm and do well on a diet of fry cat food, but they can be rather fussy
eaters, preferring one food today and another the next. Like hedgehogs, little is known of their true dietary requirements.
Another area where they are similar to hedgehogs is in their tendency to aestivate
during the hot, Madagascan summers. They tend to stay in this state of torpor for longer periods of time, however, with
it usually lasting 2-3 months. In captivity, far away from the changing seasons of their home territory, they too will slow down and enter
a semi-hibernation state, but usually this occurs more regularly and amongst a larger percentage of the population than do African Pygmy
hedgehogs. It is curious to note, however, that both animals - aside from having similar outward appearances - being so completely different,
would display the very rare tendency for their biological clocks to be in equilibrium with their native habitat, no matter how displaced
from it they might be.
Despite their inability to reproduce as quickly as hedgehogs, they too have adjusted well to captivity. They can make very nice pets
and, since they do not click and hiss when frightened, are a less intimidating animal to the uninitiated. Their tendency towards aggression,
though, cannot be overlooked in this regard. At this point in time, little is known of their potential for making good pets although experienced
breeders have quoted excellent results.
Once again, a comparison to hedgehogs can be made concerning captive breeding. The males and females can be put together for breeding around
the end of March, not long after they have come out of their near-dormant state and have
become more active. Once together, the male will attempt to mount the female almost immediately. The female will very
often resist vigorously but a male Tenrec is determined and will even grab hold of the females' shoulder spines with his teeth to keep her from
escaping. There is rarely any injury to either party, though. The two should be left together for 7-10 days, after which the female
is given her own cage and nest box. As has already been mentioned, the gestation period is believed to be between 51 and 58 days in length.
Once the babies are born, the female must be left alone or she may eat them. Despite this immediate threat during the first week after
giving birth, Tenrec females make excellent mothers and will usually raise all 2-4 babies to the point of weaning with little or no trouble
The Madagascan Hedgehog Tenrec is fairly disease resistant with few, if any recorded serious ailments. Like hedgehogs, though, there is
probably a number of diet related health problems that must yet be overcome. As is the case with most new exotic pet species, a considerable
amount of time must yet be spent in determining the exact dietary needs of these animals.
If well kept, you can expect a captive Tenrec to live to be at least
7 years and possibly as long as 10. The maximum recorded longevity is 10 years and 6 months.
Two useful Tenrec mail-lists if you are looking for more information: