This little guy survived the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs

On the island of Hispaniola, which houses Haiti and the Dominican Republic, lives a small, rodent-like mammal that packs a lot more survivability than its size may suggest. Not only are they venomous, but a new discovery suggests they’re also asteroid-surviving. But after 78 million years, they’re in trouble.

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A rare Hispaniolan solenodon.

Found only on the  Island of Hispaniola they are between 11 - 13 inches on average, with tails around 25cm in length. They are covered in a brown / red fur, except on the legs, underbelly, ears and nose. 

Being Solenodon’s, they are venomous, as well as nocturnal. They burrow and survive on a diet of insects.


The Hispaniolan Solenodon: one of the world’s weirdest mammals  

Commonly known as Hispaniolan Solenodon and Haitian Solenodon, Solenodon paradoxus (Soricomorpha - Solenodontidae) is one of these ‘last survivors’, and perhaps one of the evolutionary distinct mammals in existence today. 

It has several unusual features that make it truly unique, one of them is a venomous bite, yes, It is one of only a few species of mammal capable of producing toxic saliva, and the venom is delivered in a manner more common amongst reptiles, through special grooves in its second incisors (Solenodon literally means ‘slotted-tooth’). Add a goat-like musk scent, and a long snout with a ball-and-socket joint allowing an extreme range of movement, and the Hispaniolan Solenodon shapes up to be something of an oddity.

Locals in The Hispaniola claim that solenodons never run in a straight line, and that it grunts like a pig and calls like a bird. Perhaps the weirdest feature of the solenodon is how the females suckle their young - two elongated teats, located almost directly in the groin area of the animal, something found in no other known mammal, existing or fossilized.

This amazing species is endemic to Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic), and is regarded as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

References: [1] - [2] - [3] - [4]

Photo credits: [Top: ©Jorge Brocca | Locality: Dominican Republic, 2009] - [Bottom: ©Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust-Darwin Initiative (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) | Locality: Dominican Republic, 2009] 

Here you can watch a video of this amazing creature.


The Hispaniolan solenodon was once the apex predator on the island of Hispaniola.  Since it ate many insects and small mammals, it was an excellent form of pest control for local farmers.  It is one of the last two surviving native insectivorous mammals in the Caribbean, and one of only two remaining endemic terrestrial mammals of Hispaniola.  However, the introduction of predators such as feral cats, dogs, and moongooses have decimated the population of solenodons, and they are now severely endangered.

Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus)

The Hispaniolan solenodon is a solenodon found only on Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Hispaniolan solenodon looks much like an oversized shrew. It weighs 0.6–1.0 kg. Head-and-body length is 28–33 cm and the tail is about 25 cm. The second lower incisor has a narrow groove (Solenodon derives from the Greek for “grooved tooth”), through which flows a venomous saliva secreted by the submaxillary gland, making the solenodon one of only a handful of venomous mammals. A Hispaniolan solenodon has glands in the armpits and in the groin, which are said to 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 is nocturnal and has highly developed senses of hearing, smell and touch. The Hispaniolan solenodon is classified as Endangered by the IUCN.

photo credits:Seb az86556

Endangered venomous mammal predates dinosaurs' extinction, study confirms
What they do know is that any close ancestors are long gone, and today's solenodons are the only remnant of a very ancient group of mammals.

The University of Illinois and University of Puerto Rico have completely sequenced the mitochondrial genome for the Hispaniolan solenodon, filling in the last major branch of placental mammals on the tree of life.

The study, published in Mitochondrial DNA, confirmed that the venomous mammal diverged from all other living mammals 78 million years ago, long before an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs.

“It’s just impressive it’s survived this long,” said co-first author Adam Brandt, a postdoctoral researcher at Illinois. “It survived the asteroid; it survived human colonization and the rats and mice humans brought with them that wiped out the solenodon’s closest relatives.”

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Osteopilus dominicensis / Rana platanera | ©Carlos De Soto Molinari   (Presa de Pinalito, Bonao, Dominican Republic)

The Hispaniolan common treefrog, Osteopilus dominicensis (Hylidae), is an arboreal species widespread in Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic) [1]. 

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Hispaniolan Slider (Trachemys decorata)

Also sometimes known as the Hatian Slider, the Hispaniolan slider is a species of pond turtle (Emydidae) which is endemic to the Dominican Republic and Haiti (Hispaniola). Hispaniolan sliders are a freshwater species inhabiting freshwater ponds, lakes, and rivers and feeding on a range of aquatic insects, vegetation, and occasionally fish. 


Animalia-Chordata-Reptilia-Testudines-Emydidae-Deirochelyinae-Trachemys-T. decorata

Image: Brian Gratwicke


Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus)

The Hispaniolan solenodon is a solenodon found only on Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Hispaniolan solenodon looks much like an oversized shrew. Head-and-body length is 28–33 cm (11–13 in) and the tail is about 25 cm. The Hispaniolan solenodon is nocturnal, a consequence of which is its highly developed senses of hearing, smell and touch. Its is one of the few venomous mammals, having venomous saliva. Hispaniolan solenodons eat a wide variety of animals, including arthropods, worms, snails and small reptiles; they may also feed on roots, fruits and foliage. They probe the earth with their snouts and dig or rip open rotten logs with their claws. It t is a slow, clumsy runner. Since it´s classified as “Endangered” by the IUCN, the species is fully protected by law.

photo credits: weirdanimals, wiki, bbc


Solenodons were once widespread on Cuba and Hispaniola, but habitat degradation and an influx of invasive species have taken a terrible toll on their numbers.  The Cuban solenodon (last image) was believed to have gone extinct several times; it was first recorded by western scientists in the 1860s, but then went unseen until the mid-1970s.  Even after that, it was thought to have gone extinct until seven animals, including a male nicknamed Alejandrito, were caught by researchers in 2003.  Even so, only 37 animals have ever been caught and studied, and there have been concerns about the Hispanionlan solenodon (top two images) going functionally extinct as recently as 2008.

“Hispaniolan Masked Curly-tailed Lizard” (Leiocephalus personatus)

…Also known as the “Green-legged curly-tail” or “Jewelled curly-tail”, the Hispaniolan masked curly-tailed lizard is a species of curly-tailed lizard (Leiocephalidae) which is endemic to the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean. Like other members of its family L. personatus is mainly terrestrial and will feed on a range of small invertebrates. Leiocephalus personatus shows significant sexual dimorphism, with males being large and showing striking red markings around the head and lower jaw. 


Animalia-Chordata-Reptilia-Squamata-Leiocephalidae-Leiocephalus-L. personatus

Image: H. Krisp


The Hispaniolan solenodon’s impressive snout isn’t just for looks!  That nose has a ball-and-socket joint at its base, similar to that of the human elbow.  This means it can turn and flex its snout to explore narrow, twisting crevices in search of insects, worms, grubs, and other invertebrates.  The solenodon will also eat roots, berries, vegetation, carrion, and small reptiles/amphibians.


The word “solenodon” derives from an Ancient Greek term meaning “grooved tooth”.  This is because both species of solenodon have distinct and obvious grooves on their lower incisors, a delivery method for perhaps their most unique feature; venomous saliva.  Solenodons are among the very few venomous mammals on Earth, and their venom has been found to be quite similar to that of certain snakes.  While not strong enough to kill a human, solenodon venom is quite efficient at killing prey animals such as mice, causing convulsions, paralysis, and breathing problems.  And solenodons are not immune to their own bite, either; fights between competing animals have led to solenodons dying from bite wounds.


We know solenodons have pretty impressive noses, but how do they smell?  As it turns out, pretty much like goats!  Solenodons have glands in their armpits and groins that secrete a musky odour reported to be very similar to that given off by male goats.  In fact, one of the best ways to check for solenodon presence in an area is to “sniff out” burrows that smell strongly of goats; that likely means a solenodon is making use of it!