Although it looks a lot like a hedgehog, the Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec (Echinops telfairi) is actually a member of the Tenrecidae family. When two species that are not closely related develop similar traits or appearances, due to living within similar environments and adapting to similar lifestyles, it is known as convergent evolution.
HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
The lesser hedgehog tenrec is endemic to southern and southwestern Madagascar, where it lives among the gallery and spiny forests, shrublands and grasslands. In 1999 it was discovered living in southeastern Madagascar also.
The overall appearance is similar to that of a slender hedgehog. The pinkish face is hairy with large ears and an elongated snout. The nape and body is covered in small spines that are usually golden-brown but can range from cream to dark brown. The underside of the tenrec is paler than the face and covered in fine hair. This species reaches a length of 13 - 17cm.
DIET, BEHAVIOUR AND REPRODUCTION
Lesser hedgehog tenrecs eat eggs, insects and invertebrates, and can be found resting during the day in a sheltered area, such as under a log or in a tree hollow. Being nocturnal this species needs a keen sense of smell and good hearing to help it find its prey. During the colder seasons, the lesser hedgehog tenrec enters a state of torpor. This is when it becomes more lethargic and less active to help conserve energy and heat. Not long after torpor it is ready to mate. Gestation can take 55 - 65 days and usually yields 5 - 7 young (although it can be as high as 10). Captive specimens can live for up to 19 years but the norm is 5 - 10 years. When stressed it can use a muscle under its skin (the panniculus carnosus) to lift its spines in a threatening manner. Similar to hedgehogs it can also roll in to a ball to protect its soft underbelly and face, if the predator persists it may come out of its ball and bite.
Lesser hedgehog tenrecs are described as semi-arboreal (tree-dwelling) as they make great climbers.
There are no major threats to this species and as so it is listed by the IUCN as Least Concern.
OTHER NOTABLE FACTS
The lesser hedgehog tenrec is the only species within the genus Echinops. It is also one of only 24 species included in the Mammalian Genome Project, a project aimed at expanding on our knowledge of human and mammalian evolution.