Hispaniolan Solenodon

The Hispaniolan Solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus), also known as the Haitian Solenodon or Agouta, is a solenodon found only on the island of Hispaniola, part of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Currently, the solenodon may only be surviving in two places in the Dominican Republic: Jaragua and Del Este National Parks. Its presence in Los Haitises National Park is inferred but unconfirmed. It was discovered in 1833. The Hispaniolan Solenodon belongs to the order Soricomorpha and the family Solenodontidae.

The solenodon looks much like an oversized shrew. It weighs between 21 and 35 ounces, and is 11 to 13 inches long, with a ten inch tail. It has brownish-red fur on most of its body, the underside being a lighter shade. The tail, legs, snout and ear tips are hairless. The forelegs are noticeably more developed than the hind ones, but all have strong claws useful for digging. The head is very big in relation to its body, and it has a long rostrum with tiny eyes and ears, partially hidden by the body fur. An interesting singularity is the os proboscis, a bone located on the tip of the rostrum that supports the snout cartilage.

The solenodon has two defenses which help it to survive predation in the wild. The first is that it has a venomous bite. The solenodon is one of the few mammals that can deliver venom. The second defense is that it has glands in the armpits and in the groin which allegedly give off a goat-like smell. It readily defends itself against one of its own kind and is apparently not immune to its own venom since animals have been seen to die after fighting and sustaining minor wounds. It also probably attacks other animals savagely judging from the way a captive solenodon was reported to have attacked a young chicken and tore it to pieces with its strong claws, before eating it.

Solenodons are nocturnal and have a highly developed sense of hearing, smell and touch. During daylight hours they hide in their burrows, trees, hollowed-out logs, or caves, hidden from view. This is one reason that it was unknown to science for so long. When they do come out, they run on their toes with a stiff ungainly waddle, following an erratic almost zigzag course. The local people claim that solenodons never run in a straight line. Moreover, when a solenodon is alarmed and tries to put on speed it is as likely as not to trip over its own toes or even tumble head-over-heels.

Solenodons eat a wide variety of animals, including arthropods, worms, snails, small reptiles, roots, fruits, and perhaps foliage. They probe the earth with their snout, and dig or rip open rotten logs with their claws. Solenodons in captivity have been seen to bathe often and to drink only when bathing. Perhaps the long snout makes any other way difficult.

Photo Credit: Harvard Museum of Natural History / Peabody Museum