The eulipotyphlans, frequently referred to as “insectivores”, include almost 450 species of shrews (Soricidae), moles and desmans (Talpidae), hedgehogs, moonrats and gymnures (Erinaceidae), and solenodons (Solenodontidae). These species represent some of the most ancient lineages of living mammals. The group as a whole differentiated very early on during placental mammal evolution, and it is currently estimated that the two species of solenodons – large shrew-like mammals that are found today on the Caribbean islands of Cuba and Hispaniola – diverged from the last common ancestor they shared with all other living mammals around 76 million years ago, during the time of the dinosaurs.
All of the eulipotyphlans have a fairly generalized diet consisting mainly of invertebrate prey, hence their common name of “insectivores”. However, different eulipotyphlan groups show a remarkable range of adaptations to different lifestyles and ecological habitats. Moles are highly specialized for subterranean burrowing, with powerful forelimbs and large paws, and reduced eyes and ears; whereas water shrews and desmans have become adapted for hunting in fast-flowing streams and rivers. Hedgehogs have instead evolved extremely specialized defensive adaptations, with an armoury of spines and the ability to roll up into a protective ball using highly developed back muscles. Many eulipotyphlans are also venomous – several species of shrews and moles are known to have venomous saliva for paralyzing their prey, and the two living species of solenodon also have specialized grooves in their teeth for delivering venom directly from modified salivary glands.
Click on the family names below to learn more about each one:
– Family Erinaceidae
– Family Soricidae
– Family Talpidae
– Family Solenodontidae