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How This 'Slow', 'Clumsy' And Seriously Weird Animal Has Outsmarted Death

a solenodon in an exhibit
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Aug 26 2017
Fellow, Research, Stanford

Many animals endemic to islands have gone the proverbial "way of the dodo", including, well, the dodo. Island species face some of the toughest climate and human-induced challenges, and some of them just don't make it out alive. But new research shows how one strange creature — the solenodon — was able to escape extinction by being hungry.

From the outset, solenodons have some strange things going on: Though they are mammals, their saliva is venomous, and they use their teeth to inject prey with it. They have been called "slow" and "clumsy" and have a strange gait that makes them move in a zig-zag. Solenodons look like what you'd expect if you asked a person on PCP to draw ant anteater. Or Mickey Mouse.

But strange as they may be, solenodons' most useful quality is that they are not picky eaters. New research presented at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference in Alberta, Canada this week suggests that their ability to eat pretty much anything has helped them survive waves of indigenous and European populations in the Caribbean.

Researcher Alexis Mychajliw is a 2014 Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow (Anonymous Donor), Biology.