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Torpor for TenrecsThe Tenrec’s Sleepy Winter Vacation

November 18, 2015

Found on the island of Madagascar, this spiky little creature closely resembles a hedgehog in looks but is actually related more to shrews and moles. They are also distantly related to aardvarks, elephants, Hyraxes, dugongs, and manatees. Madagascar pygmy hedgehog tenrecs are typically found in forest habitats where they spend some of their time in the trees and some on land. Here at the zoo our tenrecs are located with our ambassador education animals and make appearances at birthday parties, school programs and special events.

Tenrecs are nocturnal and will spend most of the day curled up in tree cavities. At night they use their keen sense of smell and hearing to hunt for small insects as well as finding fruit. Their eyesight is poor so they depend on their other senses to find food and avoid predators. Their backs are covered in spines that they can raise up when confronting a threat. Tenrecs will also rub their spines together making high pitched sounds to communicate with each other.

During the cold season tenrecs enter a state called torpor. This can last from 3-5 months. Torpor is a form of hibernation. During this time the tenrec will slow down behaviorally.  While in torpor the tenrec will have a lower body temperature and their metabolic rates are greatly reduced in an effort to conserve energy. Torpor is driven by ambient temperature and food availability. Even in the zoo our tenrecs will exhibit torpor. During this time they become less active, eat very little and spend much of their time curled up sleeping. As the days lengthen and the temperatures begin to rise the tenrecs begin to wake up and their activity level and food intake will return to normal. Breeding season typically occurs when the tenrecs come out of torpor.

Tenrecs are currently listed as least concern on the IUCN Red list of threatened species but they are threatened by several factors. Habitat loss is the largest threat to tenrec species. The Madagascar forests are continually being taken down for slash and burn agriculture. Other threats include introduced species of different shrew, and carnivores. You can help the tenrecs by making environmentally responsible lifestyle decisions to help conserve habitat – conserve energy, reduce litter and reduce pollution.

Our tenrecs here at the zoo are ambassadors to their species helping to inspire zoo guests to care for the world around them. By making appearances at birthday parties, sleep overs and special events they are helping people to connect and have a better appreciation for nature around them.

Stephanie Peters
Program Animal Coordinator