Sunday, June 17, 2012

Creature Feature: Otter Shrew.

Wait a second. Wait just a doggone second. You already did otters. Sure, those were sea otters and this looks more like a river otter, and otters are always a ton of fun to watch, but still.

Thing is, this isn't an otter. It's not even related to otters aside from being a mammal. The creature up there is a giant otter shrew (Potamogale velox), which is neither an otter nor a shrew. It is properly a tenrec, native to the forest streams of sub-Saharan Africa. As one might expect, it is a piscivorous, freshwater mammal. Rodent or mustelid it is not.

For those of you who do not recall my Madagascar Week, tenrecs are the weirdest and most diverse members of Afrotheria. They are known for mimicking other, 'normal' animals uncannily well. Unlike most mammals, tenrecs have cloacae (a single opening for defecating, urinating, and birthing) and sport unusually low body temperatures. They're like the marsupials of Madagascar.

The otter shrew is a miracle of convergent evolution. Tenrecs are known for filling a lot of niches, but the otter shrew takes the cake by looking like a river otter, eating like a river otter, and basically being a river otter in every way except genetics and dentition. Tenrecs can mimic the niches and looks of several "normal" animals, but the otter shrew is just insane at how well it copies an otter.

That said, the parts that aren't distinctly otterlike stick out. Unlike otters - hell, unlike marine mammals like dolphins and manatees (to whom the tenrecs are related) - the otter shrew's spine moves side to side like a crocodile's while it's swimming. It also has a crazy skull that looks almost like it belongs on a crocodile more than any sort of mammal. The primitive side of tenrecs is crystal clear beneath that otter facade.

Tenrecs are among those animals that I simply cannot comprehend people not loving. There's a certain charm to a group of animals so like 'normal' animals, but so very far away on a genetic level. Oh, and this one might be more like Pikachu than a rodent, too.


  1. Is there any history of tenrecs being domesticated? If the non-endangered ones became more visible it might spur interest in the scientific community. Can they be pets?

    1. The Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec is domesticated for the exact reasons you're thinking. I'm not sure about being pet-pets - probably if you know the right people - but they aren't common yet.

      Also, I don't think tenrecs are endangered...yet. The otter shrew is just neat.

  2. I've been looking for images of Potamogale for study. Let me know if you have images with higher resolution that I may trace.