Next to the jumbo shrimp and the pygmy hippo, my favorite oxymoron of the animal kingdom is the elephant shrew, the incredibly cute and thoroughly confusing member of the family Macroscelidida. The newest and smallest member of this species of round-eared sengi has been discovered in southwestern Africa, which makes this a terribly good time to look at them.
According to this week’s Journal of Mammalogy, Drs. Jack Dumbacher and Galen Rathbun from the California Academy of Sciences found a sengi in the northwestern region of Namibia that was quite different from any they’d seen before in that it was smaller, had rust-colored fur but no dark skin pigment and had a large, hairless gland underneath its tail. Using genetic analysis and comparing it to specimens in other collections, they determined it was an entirely new species – the Macroscelides micus. Despite the challenge of working in such remote areas, this is the fourth new elephant shrew the team has discovered since its first expedition in 2005.
Sengi are really interesting creatures. Called the elephant shrew because of its resemblance in body size to the mole-like shrew and its long elephantine nose, it’s actually a member of Afrotheria, an eclectic grouping of primarily African mammals that includes aardvarks, elephants and sea cows. Sengi are insect eaters, using their noses to find bugs and their tongues to pull them into their mouths like anteaters.
If that doesn’t make them the coolest oxymoron animal, here’s two more sengi facts – they are monogamous and females have a menstrual cycle similar to humans, making them one of the few non-primates to get PMS.
You can insert your own seriously funny “shrew” joke here.