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Brief Summary

    Giant otter shrew: Brief Summary
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    The giant otter shrew (Potamogale velox) is a semiaquatic, carnivorous tenrec. It is found in the main rainforest block of central Africa from Nigeria to Zambia, with a few isolated populations in Kenya and Uganda. It is found in streams, wetlands and slow flowing larger rivers. It is monotypic in the genus Potamogale.

    Contrary to its name the giant otter shrew is not a true shrew (Soricidae) but a tenrec (Tenrecidae). The common name refers to their resemblance to otters with their flat face and stiff whiskers, and the tenrecs' overall superficial similarity to true shrews. They are nocturnal carnivores that feed on aquatic animals.

Comprehensive Description

Distribution

    Distribution
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    Potamogale velox is found only in central Africa, from the southern regions of Nigeria, Gabon, and The Central African Republic to the Northern regions of Angolia and Zambia. It is rarely found west of Tanzania and Uganda. One small population lives between Uganda and Kenya (African Mammal Databank).

    Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )

Morphology

    Morphology
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    The Giant Otter Shrew got its common name because of its physical resemblance to otters. It has a broad, flat muzzle covered with stiff whiskers, and flaps of skin that seal its nostrils when diving. It has small eyes and external ears. The thick round body is covered with a dense undercoat and course guard hairs. P. velox has a dark brown back and whitish under parts. The tail is covered with a short, silky coat of fur. It is compressed laterally, and allows P. velox to swim with a fish-like motion (Knigdon, 1997; Nicoll, 1985; Walker, 1983). Legs, which are short and lack webbed digits, are not used for swimming. The hind feet have a flap if skin along the inside that allows them to be held snugly against the body when swimming. There are also two syndactylous toes on the hind feet, used for grooming. On land P. velox is plantigrade (Walker, 1983; Nicoll, 1985). Females have two mammae on the lower abdomen (Nicoll, 1985).

    Range mass: 300 to 950 g.

    Range length: 535 to 640 mm.

    Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Habitat

    Habitat
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    P. velox prefers aquatic environments in the central African rain forest. Its preferred habitats include both high and low order streams, swamps, and during the rainy season some animals may migrate to small forest pools (Kingdon, 1997; Walker 1983).

    Range elevation: 0 to 1800 m.

    Habitat Regions: freshwater

    Terrestrial Biomes: rainforest

    Aquatic Biomes: rivers and streams

    Wetlands: swamp

Trophic Strategy

    Trophic Strategy
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    P. velox is a nocturnal predator, hunting primarily by touch and scent in calm pools. It searches both the pool and the bank for food. It prefers areas that have cover to retreat to when it feels threatened (Nicoll, 1985). P. velox attacks prey using sharp bites, sometimes pinning the prey with its fore feet, and flipping crabs over to attack their ventral surface. When attacking larger prey P. velox hisses, and avoids crabs larger than 7 cm across (Nicoll, 1985; Walker, 1983). The prey preference varies among individuals; some prefer crabs; others, frogs, or even fish. Frogs are eaten headfirst and fish are pulled into manageable bits. Prey is consumed on the bank (Nicoll, 1985). They also eat insects, mollusks, and prawns.

    Animal Foods: amphibians; fish; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; mollusks

    Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Piscivore , Insectivore , Eats non-insect arthropods, Molluscivore )

Behavior

    Behavior
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical

Life Expectancy

    Life Expectancy
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    Little in known about the longevity of P. velox, but when held in captivity individuals quickly deteriorate (Nicoll, 1985).

    Range lifespan
    Status: captivity:
    1 to 14 days.

Reproduction

    Reproduction
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    Males move long distances in search of mates and it is thought that males rut during the wet season (Nicoll, 1985).

    Little is known about the reproductive patterns of P. velox, but females examined were generally developing twins (Nicoll, 1985).

    Breeding season: Wet season

    Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal )

Conservation Status

    Conservation Status
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    The habitat of P. velox is highly fragmented (Walker, 1983; African Mammal Databank; Nicoll, 1985). While they can tolerate seasonally cloudy streams, streams muddied from erosion and deforestation are little used (Walker, 1983; African Mammal Databank). Habitat quality is apparently important to this species. Some drown in fishing nets or fish traps (Walker, 1983; Kingdon, 1997), and members of this species have not survived well in captivity (Nicoll, 1985). There is ongoing research about the effects of human activity on them (African Mammal Databank).

    US Migratory Bird Act: no special status

    US Federal List: no special status

    CITES: no special status

    IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

Other Articles

    Untitled
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    Information on P. velox is scarce, and much of it is in languages other than English.

    Despite it's common name "shrew" it should be noted that P. velox is a tenrec, not a shrew.