The Cuban solenodon or almiqui (Solenodon cubanus), is a species of soricomorph endemic to Cuba. It belongs to the family Solenodontidae along with a similar species, the Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus). The solenodon is unusual among mammals in that its saliva is venomous.
Since its discovery in 1861 by the German naturalist Wilhelm Peters, only 36 had ever been caught. By 1970, some thought the Cuban solenodon had become extinct, since no specimens had been found since 1890. Three were captured in 1974 and 1975, and subsequent surveys showed it still occurred in many places in central and western Oriente Province, at the eastern end of Cuba; however, it is rare everywhere. Prior to 2003, the most recent sighting was in 1999, mainly because it is a nocturnal burrower, living underground, and thus is very rarely seen. The Cuban solenodon found in 2003, named Alejandrito, brought the number ever caught to 37. It had a mass of 24 oz (0.68 kg) and was healthy. It was released back into the wild after two days of scientific study were completed.
With small eyes, and dark brown to black hair, the Cuban solenodon is sometimes compared to a shrew, although it most closely resembles members of the family Tenrecidae, of Madagascar. It is 16–22 in (41–56 cm) long from nose to tail-tip and resembles a large brown rat with an extremely elongated snout and a long, naked, scaly tail.
Willy Ley wrote in 1964 that the Cuban solenodon was, if not extinct, among "the rarest animals on earth". It was declared extinct in 1970, but was rediscovered in 1974. Since 1982, it has been listed as an endangered species, in part because it only breeds a single litter of one to three in a year, and because of predation by the invasive small Asian mongoose introduced by humans.
The home range of the Cuban solenodon is currently in Cuba only. This species is nocturnal and it travels at night along the forest floor, looking for insects and small animals on which to feed.
This species has a varied diet. At night, they search the forest floor litter for insects and other invertebrates, fungi, and roots. They climb well and feed on fruits, berries, and buds, but have more predatory habits, too. With venom from modified salivary glands in the lower jaw, they can kill lizards, frogs, small birds, or even rodents. They seem not to be immune to the venom of their own kind, and cage mates have been reported dying after fights.
This species of animals are polygamist which means they only meet up to mate and the male mates with multiple females. The males and females are not found together unless they are mating. The pair will meet up, mate, then separate. The males do not partake in raising any of the young.
Presently, Solenodon cubanus is limited to the Oriente Province in Cuba. However, fossils show that Solenodon species lived on the North American mainland 30 million years ago (Grzimek, 1990).
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
Other Geographic Terms: island endemic
Cuban solenodons have relatively large heads, tiny eyes, and large, projecting and partially naked ears. They have a long proboscus with a supporting bone. Their forelegs are longer than their hindlegs. On their feet they have five fingers with powerful claws at the end. The tail is thick, scaly, and almost hairless (Grzimek, 1990). Solenondon has an incomplete zygomatic arch and no auditory bulla. Their dental formula is 3/3,1/1,3/3,3/3 = 40 (Vaughn et al., 2000). Solenodon cubanus has a longer and finer pelage than does S. paradoxous, the only other extant species of Solenodon. The pelage of S. cubanus is blackish brown with white or buff. Head and body length of Cuban solenodons ranges from 280 to 390 mm, tail length from 175 to 255 mm, and they weigh about 1 kilogram. Solenodons have glands in their inguinal and groin areas that secrete a musky, goat-like odor. Females have two mammae. The submaxillary glands of S. paradoxus produce toxic saliva, which may help them to subdue prey. Presumably, S. cubanus also produces toxic saliva (Nowak, 1999).
Average mass: 1 kg.
Range length: 280 to 390 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Average mass: 1000 g.
Solenodon lives in family groups in caves, natural hollows, and burrows in dense, wet mountain forests (Nowak, 1999).
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest
Cuban solenodons are generalized omnivores that prefer animal material. They prey primarily on invertebrates, but also scavenge on vertebrate remains (Vaughn et al., 2000). They also eat insects, worms, small reptiles, roots, fruits, and leaves. Unfortunately, even though they have a large array of dietary items to choose from, their population is decling due to the slow rate of breeding (The International Wildlife Encyclopedia, 1974). Cuban solenodons find food by rooting with their snouts or digging and uncovering animals with their large claws.
Animal Foods: reptiles; carrion ; insects; terrestrial worms
Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; fruit
Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore )
Cuban solenodons are important small, generalized predators in the ecosystems they inhabit. They help to control populations of invertebrates and may disperse the seeds of the fruits they eat.
Cuban solenodons may be preyed on by snakes and birds of prey. Their secretive, burrowing habits probably protect them from many predators. They may also be able to use their toxic salivary secretions as a defense mechanism.
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Solenodon are relatively long lived animals. A Cuban solenodon lived more than 5 years in captivity. They may be able to live longer as a Hispaniolan solenodon lived to 11 years in captivity (Vaughn et al., 2000).
Status: captivity: 5 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 6.0 years.
Mating behavior in solenodons is unknown.
Very little is known about reproduction in solenodons. Cuban solenodons have low reproductive rates of 1 to 2 offspring per litter. The young are born in a burrow. They have two litters per year and the young stay with their mother for several months (The International Wildlife Encyclopedia, 1974; Massicot, 2001). Young from multiple litters may stay with their mother, with as many as 8 solenodons being found in a single nest.
Breeding season: Breeding and births may occur throughout the year.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 2.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); viviparous
Average number of offspring: 1.5.
Young are cared for in their mothers nest until they reach independence. Presumably males do not care for young.
Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care
Both S. cubanus and S. paradoxus are listed as endangered by the IUCN (Nowak, 1999). Populations of S. cubanus are declining due to the introduction of Old World rats (Rattus), mongoose (Herpestes), domestic dogs, and domesticc cats into the West Indies. The clearing of land for agriculture has also led to their decline (Vaughn et al., 2000).
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered
There is no negative effect of Cuban solenodons on humans, unless one is provoked and bites in self-defense.
Cuban solenodons are important predators of invertebrates that may act as pests.
Positive Impacts: controls pest population
Solenodon have highly developed senses of touch, smell, and hearing. The name Solenodon comes from the words solen (meaning “channel”) and dent (meaning “tooth”). The distribution of Solenodon on islands is probably the key to their survival. This is partially due to their low competitive ability (Vaughn et al., 2000). Solenodon cubanus is sometimes placed in the separate genus or subgenus Atopogale. Earlier in the 20th century, S. cubanus was thought to be extinct, but it was recently found in many parts of eastern Cuba, though it is rare (Nowak, 1999).