Conservation status: Endangered
The Almiqui, also known as the Cuban Solenodon is an insectivore found only in the eastern mountains of Cuba. It belongs to the same family as the Haitian Solenodon and is unusual in the mammalian family because it's saliva is venomous. It was originally thought to be extinct for the past 25 years. However, the insectivore has resurrected from the verge of extinction and although still endangered, is still alive in it's homeland of Cuba. Since first being noted by naturalists in the 19th century, the almiqui has only been sighted a handful of times. A victim of growth and development, deforestation played a massive role in the downsizing of the Solenodons population. Furthermore, the introduction of creatures such as dogs and house cats have also caused the numbers of these creatures to dwindle. However, they appear to be making a very slow comeback.
The Almiqui was first discovered in 1861 by hello there fella Wilhelm Peters, a German born naturalist. In a period of 30 years, a total of only 36 had ever been captured and observed. It was around 1970 that it was felt that it had indeed fallen extinct like several species before it since none had been reported since the 19th century. On June 2nd of that year it was finally placed upon an endangered species act. In 1974 and 75', three were finally spotted and captured, with subsequent surveys showing that it still occurred in many places in the central and western Oriente Province. Still, it is extremely rare across the range of Cuba. A nocturnal burrower, the almiqui lives underground, and is very rarely seen, and even then often times misinterpreted. The Cuban Solenodon that was found in 2003, named Alejandrito, brought the number ever caught to 37. He weighed 24 ounces and was healthy. He was released back into the wild after two days of scientific study were completed. While it is not yet extinct, it is still an endangered species, in part because it only breeds a single litter of one to three in a year, and because of predation by species that were introduced by humans. Introduction of the Burmese mongoose into Cuba is believed to have accounted for the near-extermination of the solenodon. Currently, feral cats are probably the greatest threat, since the areas the solenodon inhabits now is not the best of mongoose habitat. In addition to predation by introduced predators, habitat loss is also a factor contributing to the solenodon's rarity. The Cuban solenodon is not hunted for food.
Appearance And BiologyEdit
With small eyes, and dark brown to black hair, it is sometimes compared to a shrew, although it most closely resembles members of the family Tenrecidae, of Madagascar. It is 16-22 inches (40-55 centimeters) long from nose to tail and resembles a large brown rat with an extremely elongated snout and a long, naked, scaly tail. The eyes are tiny and shrew-like. The large ears partially protrude from the fur. The legs are relatively long, and well-muscled. Each of all four paws carries five digits with large, strong claws. It is found in the dense, humid forests and brush country of eastern Cuba, as well as around plantations that lie in the area. They weigh on average around 1 kg and subsist on a diet of Insects and spiders found in soil and leaf litter. Being a nocturnal creature, it usually hides in rock clefts, hollow trees, or in burrows it excavates itself with it's fore claws. They usually have one or two young which are born in small nesting burrows. Young Cuban solenodons remain with their mother for several months, which is exceptionally long for insectivores. The relationships among the numerous insectivore species is far from settled. Evolutionary biologists have not settled the question of whether the families listed within the order Insectivora are monophyletic (sharing a common ancestor species) or polyphyletic (deriving from several separate origins). Presently, the solenodontids appear to be most closely related to several species of extinct shrews, the Nesophontidae, native to various islands of the Antilles, while both families share similarities among the family Tenrecidae (the tenrecs of Madagascar and mainland Africa) and the subfamily Potamogalinae (otter shrews of mainland Africa). The Solenodontidae show an array of primitive mammalian features, but whether they represent a relict family from the mainlands, little changed, or are the derived descendants of smaller colonizing insectivores that evolved to "giant" size on the islands, is not clear. These ancestors most likely rafted on vegetation from the mainlands of the Americas to Cuba and Hispaniola as long ago as the Mesozoic and early Cenozoic eras. The Solenodontidae survived on the islands without competition from more advanced mammal types. The solenodons show a puzzling mix of primitive and derived traits. Among the primitive characters are a poisonous bite and the ability to echolocate. Solenodon sight is poor, but hearing, olfactory, and tactile senses are acute. Some of it's traits include longevity, low birth frequency, low number of young per litter, and the os proboscis bone in the Hispaniolan solenodon. Solenodons can climb near-vertical surfaces, but they spend most of the time foraging on the ground. Solenodons are easily startled, especially by sharp or high-pitched sounds, and are easily provoked into scrappy rages against other solenodons or other animal species. Given its jaw full of sharp teeth, modeled according to the shrew pattern with some modification, an enraged solenodon can deliver a severe bite.
Both solenodon species are listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Both species were written off as extinct in the early twentieth century, but were subsequently rediscovered. Ironically, solenodons are among a mere handful of surviving mammal species among a large and varied array of recently extinct native mammals in the Antilles, including rodents, New World monkeys, sloths, and other insectivores. Solenodons are threatened by deforestation, predation by introduced animals, and killing by humans who consider them pests.
- 1960's: Endangered
- 1970's: Extinct
- 1980's - 1994: Endangered
- 1996 - 2004: Endangered, Population Trend: Increasing
- Population Estimates: A few tens or less
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