Facts about the animal kingdom

Tenrec Animal Characteristics, Habitat and Care

Nick A. Romero
By Nick A. Romero, Biologist and environmental educator. April 27, 2023
Tenrec Animal Characteristics, Habitat and Care

The tenrec is an animal which is endemic to the island nation of Madagascar. Africa's largest island, Madagascar is uniquely fascinating in terms of flora and fauna thanks to a relatively closed ecosystem. It is thanks to animals such as the tenrec that we can better understand evolution and adaptation in animal species. Some species are undoubtedly similar in appearance to the hedgehog, thanks to the presence of spines on their back. Others resemble certain rodents or other small mammal species, but they are actually closer to elephants than you might think.

With such a fascinating evolutionary history, AnimalWised wants to understand a little more about the animal known as the tenrec. We do so by looking at its characteristics, care, habitat, diet and much more. We also provide photos so you can see what they look like in comparison to similar-looking animals.

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  1. Is the tenrec a hedgehog?
  2. Types of tenrecs
  3. Characteristics of the tenrec
  4. Behavior of the tenrec
  5. Tenrec habitat
  6. What does the tenrec eat?
  7. Tenrec reproduction
  8. Can you have a tenrec as a pet?
  9. Caring for tenrecs
  10. Conservation status of the tenrec
See more >>

Is the tenrec a hedgehog?

The tenrec is not a hedgehog, although it is easy to understand why people think they are. Both are mammalian animals with spines, but they are grouped into different families. Tenrec vary greatly according to species, whereas those of hedgehogs are more uniform and harder. The ears of the tenrec animal are slightly larger and the nose is more elongated.

Tenrecs tend to be proportionately a little longer, but are smaller and less heavy than hedgehogs. This is not in a particularly noticeable way, as you can see in the photo comparison below. Both groups differ in the number of toes of their feet.

Finally, the natural habitat of the tenrec is restricted to Africa. Those of hedgehogs are also found in other regions such as Europe and Asia.

Learn more about the differences in these animals by looking at our guide to interesting facts about hedgehogs.

Tenrec Animal Characteristics, Habitat and Care - Is the tenrec a hedgehog?

Types of tenrecs

The classification of tenrecs has varied over time, making them a taxonomically peculiar group. They all belong to the Tenrecidae family and their current taxonomy considers three groups divided into subfamilies and about 31 species. There may be certain discrepancies, especially with older references that may report about 34 species of the tenrec animal.

Learn about some of the most common types of tenrecs and see photos of them below.

Subfamily Geogalinae

This is a single genus containing only a single extant species, the large-eared tenrec (Geogale aurita). This tenrec is shrew-like, with short, gray or reddish-brown hair. It weighs between 0.5 and 8.5 grams and measures about 10 cm.

Subfamily Oryzorictinae

This is the most diverse group of tenrecs, made up of three genera and more than 20 species. In general, the tenrecs belonging to this subfamily weigh about 40 grams and measure about 12 cm. They also have a shrew-like appearance.

Something particular is that some of these tenrecs do not have spines. Coloration varies between gray and brown. Here are some example species of this tenrec family:

  • Lesser shrew tenrec (Microgale pusilla)
  • Dobson's shrew tenrec (Nesogale dobsoni)
  • Four-toed rice tenrec (Oryzorictes tetradactylus)

Subfamily Tenrecinae

The largest species of tenrecs are placed in this subfamily. They present the characteristic spines of tenrecs, similar to those of hedgehogs. The largest species can reach up to about 2.5 kg and measure about 40 cm. They have color patterns such as yellow and black. They can also be of single color, including blackish, reddish or light brown. Four genera and five species are considered. They are:

  • Lesser hedgehog tenrec (Echinops telfairi)
  • Highland streaked tenrec (Hemicentetes nigriceps)
  • Lowland streaked tenrec (Hemicentetes semispinosus)
  • Greater hedgehog tenrec (Setifer setosus)
  • Tailless tenrec (Tenrec ecaudatus)

Animals from the family Potamogalidae were previously considered to be a subfamily of the tenrec animal species, comprising animals known as otter shrews. They have since been grouped into their own family. Although now separate from tenrecs, they are related.

Tenrec Animal Characteristics, Habitat and Care - Types of tenrecs

Characteristics of the tenrec

Tenrecs are very peculiar and have evolved in a diverse way. Morphologically and ecologically they resemble animals such as hedgehogs, shrews, opossums, mice and even otters. Their evolution is estimated to be from a common ancestor with otter shrews.

The characteristics of the tenrec are the following:

  • They have different shapes depending on the species.
  • Most have spines like hedgehogs.
  • Weights vary from about 5 grams to 1 kg, depending on the species.
  • They also vary in size, being between 4.5 and 40 cm.
  • Despite similarities in appearance, they are not directly related to hedgehogs, shrews, opossums, mice or otters.
  • The dentition changes considerably between species, varying between 32 and 40 teeth.
  • They have small eyes with poor vision.
  • Unlike other mammals, they have a cloaca. This is a combined urogenital and anal orifice similar to those of birds, amphibians and reptiles.
  • Their body temperature is variable, unlike most mammals.
  • Males do not have scrotums, so their testicles are inside the body cavity.
  • They are the mammals with the greatest reproductive potential.
Tenrec Animal Characteristics, Habitat and Care - Characteristics of the tenrec

Behavior of the tenrec

Most tenrecs are nocturnal animals, but their roles within a given habitat vary by species and some are diurnal. Due to their poor eyesight, they rely mainly on smell, relying on their whiskers and hearing to perceive their environment. Certain types of tenrec go into a state of torpor during certain times of the year, i.e. some are hibernating animals.

Some species are semi-aquatic and others are strictly terrestrial. In general, they build burrows with an entrance they usually plug. Tenrecs are solitary animals, but on specific occasions some can be close, form pairs and meet to reproduce. The range of their territory is not very large, so they usually stay more or less in the same area. They can be aggressive with members of the same species that are unknown to them.

Tenrec habitat

All the extant species of tenrecs are endemic to Madagascar. Within this island country, they are distributed in different areas or habitats. These tenrec habitats include the following:

  • Dry deciduous forests
  • Gallery forests
  • Thorny bush areas
  • Tropical rain forest
  • Mountain forests
  • Eucalyptus and pine-cultivated forests
  • Fields of rice crops
  • Lakes and rivers with fast currents
  • Grasslands
  • Marshes
  • Urban and impacted areas

What does the tenrec eat?

The tenrec is an omnivorous animal that spends many hours of its active time feeding, something common in small animals. Depending on the species, there may be a preference for a particular animal, such as termites or earthworms. This is because invertebrates are often part of their main diet.

If you want to know what types of food the tenrec eats, they enjoy the following:

  • Vegetation
  • Fruit
  • Termites
  • Worms
  • Reptiles
  • Small mammals
  • Amphibians
  • Crustaceans
  • Ant eggs
  • Snails

Learn about the diet of the similar-looking animal with our article on what do hedgehogs eat?

Tenrec Animal Characteristics, Habitat and Care - What does the tenrec eat?

Tenrec reproduction

There may be some reproductive variations depending on the species. In general, the reproduction of the tenrec occurs over several months, approximately between November and April or from October to November, depending on the species. All have a high reproductive potential since females have a postpartum estrus cycle, so that they can become pregnant again immediately after giving birth.

Another of the tenrec's reproductive characteristics is that the gestation time varies, usually around 50 to 70 days. This is because they can stop the development of the fetuses for a while. The young are born blind and totally dependent on their mothers. They are nursed for up to 33 days, in some cases a little less. Females have several breasts and can have variable litters depending on the type of tenrec, with some having as many as 32 young.

Tenrecs are usually solitary, but in some cases they can form stable pairs and have monogamous reproduction. Others are more promiscuous.

Can you have a tenrec as a pet?

As you can see in our photos of tenrecs, they are beautiful animals. Such cuteness and beauty can make them appealing. Fashions and trends are not only imposed on clothes or vehicles, but animals are unfortunately affected by them. Often this can contravene the ethical standards we want apply to animal conservation and welfare. Human beings have often domesticated animal species which would be better served remaining in the wild.

All countries have rules that regulate introducing foreign species. An exotic species can become invasive and cause serious damage to the local fauna, even leading it to extinction of endemic animals. That is why the tenrec should not be kept as a pet. Firstly, it is a wild animal, not a domestic one. Secondly, it is endemic to Madagascar which is the only region where it should inhabit.

AnimalWised recommends not buying tenrecs, even if you want to have one and see them for sale in your country. Not only is it bad for that individual animal, but promotes the trade of exotic animals which can deeply affect their natural ecosystems. It encourages poachers and traders who care about capital, not the welfare of the animals they steal. If you want to help the tenrec, it is best to support conservation efforts for them and similar animals.

Caring for tenrecs

It is common that after acquiring a wild animal, after a while, people get bored and release the animal into their local ecosystems. This is a terrible situation for both the animal and the ecosystem, since it is released in a space that is unknown. They often end up dead or injured.

If you were to find a tenrec in your area, ideally you should take it to a wildlife rescue or recovery center immediately. This is especially if it is injured or in poor condition. In case it is not possible to take it to be attended by a professional, we can take into account some general recommendations until it can be transferred to the center:

  • Pick it up with a soft, clean blanket or cloth.
  • Introduce it to a clean wooden box or aquarium, with clean towels or sheets. Ensure it has somewhere that allows the possibility of taking refuge or hiding. Remember that they are animals that live in very well protected burrows.
  • Put clean water in a container that cannot be turned over.
  • You can offer high quality cat food, chicken or ground meat, eggs and even insects if possible.
  • It should be placed in a space with dim light and a temperature between 20-25 ºC/68-77 ºF.
  • Go to the vet as soon as possible, preferably one specialized in wildlife.
Tenrec Animal Characteristics, Habitat and Care - Caring for tenrecs

Conservation status of the tenrec

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed all tenrec species. However, some assessments are not very recent, so we don't know if conservation status may change in the future. This is especially since everything indicates that its marketing can increase. Let's look at the conservation status of some species, taking into account that those not named in the following list are classified in the category of least concern:

  • Web-footed tenrec (Limnogale mergulus): vulnerable.
  • Jenkins's shrew tenrec (Microgale jenkinsae): endangered.
  • Four-toed rice tenrec (Oryzorictes tetradactylus) – data insufficient.
  • Nasolo's shrew tenrec (Microgale nasoloi): vulnerable.
  • Northern shrew tenrec (Microgale jobihely): endangered.
  • Dryad shrew tenrec (Microgale dryas): vulnerable.
  • Short-tailed shrew tenrec (Microgale brevicaudata): least concern.
  • Greater long-tailed shrew tenrec (Microgale principula): Least Concern.
  • Least shrew tenrec (Microgale pusilla): least concern.
  • Shrew-toothed shrew tenrec (Microgale soricoides): least concern.

Learn more about animal conservation with our article on whether the giant panda is still endangered.

If you want to read similar articles to Tenrec Animal Characteristics, Habitat and Care, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

  • Ciszek, D., & Myers, P. (2000). Tenrecidae. Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved from: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Tenrecidae/

  • Everson, K. M., Soarimalala, V., Goodman, S. M., & Olson, L. E. (2016). Multiple Loci and Complete Taxonomic Sampling Resolve the Phylogeny and Biogeographic History of Tenrecs (Mammalia: Tenrecidae) and Reveal Higher Speciation Rates in Madagascar's Humid Forests. Systematic Biology, 65(5), 890–909.
    https://doi.org /10.1093/sysbio/syw034

  • IUCN (2023). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2022-2. Retrieved from: https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?taxonomies=101412&searchType=species
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Tenrec Animal Characteristics, Habitat and Care