Mysterious Solenodon: The Mammal With a Snake-Like Bite

February 10, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus)
Photo credit: Seb az86556/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

From smelling like a goat, to not being able to jump — it is one unique mammal!

When you think of venomous creatures, you probably think of spiders and snakes.  Mammals don’t often come to mind because venomous ones are just so rare.

One of the most mysterious mammals is called the solenodon — one of just a handful of mammals with venom glands that are capable of delivering a powerful toxin.  There are two species of solenodon: the Cuban (Solenodon cubanus) and Hispaniolan (Solenodon paradoxus), and they were thought to have gone extinct in the 1970s due to deforestation and the introduction of invasive species.

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Luckily, some of them were spotted in 1974 and 1975, but sightings of the animals are still quite rare because, unfortunately, solenodons are endangered.  However, conservationists are working to protect this unique mammal, and also learn more about it — from the remaining population sizes to its deadly venom.

But solenodons have more interesting qualities than just their ability to produce venom.  

Flexible Noses

Their nose has a ball-and-socket joint like the human hip, making it extremely flexible.  They shove their highly pliable nose into the soil and narrow crevices to search for invertebrates like worms and insects.

However, solenodons are also omnivores, meaning they eat everything and do not limit their prey to small animals.  “There’s one report of a solenodon kept in captivity in London that ate an entire chicken,” said molecular biologist Rodrigo Ligabue Braun of Brazil’s Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul to WIRED.


They have glands in their armpits and groins that secrete a goat-like stench.


Solenodons typically forage at night, while during the day they sleep in caves, burrows and even hollow logs.

Bad Eyesight

Solenodons need such a strong sense of smell because they don’t have the best eyesight.  However, they also have very good senses of hearing and touch.

Sound Like Pigs

Solenodons grunt like pigs when they feel threatened, but they have also been heard making bird-like cries.

Nipples in a Strange Location

Females have nipples in a strange location.  “The teats are sort of in the armpit of the rear legs, and sometimes the females will kind of run around dragging the babies,” ecologist Joe Nunez-Mino said to WIRED.

Can’t Jump

Solenodons cannot jump, but despite this, they can run and climb quite fast.  Interestingly, they run on their toes in a zigzag pattern (to avoid predators), and sometimes when they are alarmed, they trip over their own toes and tumble.

Cute but Venomous

Solenodons are cute.  They are about the size of a large rat with a long tail, and long, sharp nails.  Although you may be tempted to pet these cuties... don’t!  They have a venomous bite — a very rare trait in a mammal — and they inject the venom with their teeth, just like a snake!

A solenodons venom is found underneath its lower incisors where the salivary glands send venom along grooves in their teeth.  Once the solenodon breaks a prey’s skin, the venom gets into the bloodstream.

Only a few humans have ever been bitten by a solenodon, but the symptoms are similar to a snake bite, including localized swelling and severe pain which can last for days.

However, the venom is much more lethal in smaller animals.  For example, lizards and mice often suffer from breathing problems, convulsions and paralysis.  Surprisingly, neither species of solenodon are immune to their own venom, and competing solenodons have been known to die from bite wounds after fighting.

However, there are a few other mammals that can also deliver a painful shot of venom, including the male platypus and the slow loris.

So, why does the solenodon have a venomous bite while most other mammals do not?  

It turns out, the solenodon has been around for 76 million years — before the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid, and many believe that other mammals actually evolved out of their venomous bite while the solenodon kept it — researchers are just not sure why.

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