The secret life of the striped tenrec, the striped and spiky wonder of Madagascar

The striped tenrec is a peculiar little creature that looks like a cross between a hedgehog, porcupine and zebra. And he sports a mohawk!

Look at that incredible ‘hairdo’! Image credit: Alan Harper

Found only in Madagascar, the lowland striped tenrec (Hemicentetes semispinosus) is known for its unusual appearance, as well as its peculiar behaviors and adaptations.

This adorable little creature (its average size is 140 mm or 5.5 inches) has spikes all over its body, which it uses to protect itself from predators. But the most notable feature of the striped tenrec’s appearance is its yellow or chestnut-brown stripes that run the length of its body over its black prickly coat, making it look like it’s wearing a little zebra costume. It’s hard not to smile when you see a striped tenrec running around with its cute little stripes.

A tentrec sniffing something. Probably an earthworm. Image credit: Charles Hesse

Now, let’s move on to some of the more interesting behaviors of the striped tenrec. One of the most unique things about these animals is their ability to echolocate. That’s right, like bats, striped tenrecs use sound waves to navigate their environment and find prey. They make clicking sounds with their mouths and then listen to the echoes to determine the location of their prey.

Additionally, the stridulation sounds produced by their specialized tips have also been linked to an echolocation function. It’s like they have their own little built-in sonar system!

Hello, a tentrec is coming! Image credit: Frank Vassen

Before giving birth, a pregnant female will excavate a depression in the ground inside the burrow, using her snout as a shovel. To deter potential predators, the striped tenrec will display its quills. If forced to confront another species, it will use a forceful headbutt in order to immobilize its opponent.

The lowland striped tenrec is active both day and night and feeds primarily on earthworms, although it may also consume other invertebrates. To facilitate the search for food, it occasionally stamps its front legs into the ground, which is believed to enhance the activity of earthworms. Like other tenrecs, it has a long snout suitable for digging in the ground to locate its food. However, eating scratched tenrec earthworms can lead to tooth corrosion due to the dirt’s tendency to cause scratches and pits.

Lots of spikes and a mohawk. Image credit: Thierry Cordenos

The striped tenrec is definitely a fascinating and adorable little animal that deserves more attention. But not excessive attention, of course. So if you ever find yourself in Madagascar and encounter one of these little creatures, just don’t get too close, or you might find yourself on the receiving end of some of those black and yellow spikes!

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