Discovery Science: Earth Mammals – Insectivores

Earth Science: Mammals – Insectivores

Insectivores are a small and nonuniform order of about 450 animal species Hedgehogs, shrews, and moles are the most familiar insectivores.

Some insectivores belong to the smallest mammals on Earth, including the Etruscan shrew (Suncus etruscus), which reaches a length of just over an inch (35 mm) without its tail and weighs only 0.07 ounce (two g).

Apart from hedgehogs (Erinaceidae), shrews (Soricidae), and moles (Talpidae), there are two more families: the solenodons (Solenodontidae) from the Antilles and the tenrecs (Tenrecidae), which mainly live in Madagascar.

Hedgehogs and gymnures

Hedgehogs and gymnures only live in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Gymnures have thick, hairy fur, and usually a long tail, while hedgehogs have pointy spines, which have evolved from hair.

They are connected through a ring muscle that covers the entire body surface and allows the animal to roll up like a ball with spines when threatened. Hedgehogs mainly eat insects and worms, but many also eat fruit and even carrion. They search for food when it gets dark.


Species that belong to the family Soricidae may look like mice but they are not closely related to these rodents. They are very common in Europe, North and Central America, Asia, and major parts of Africa.

Many species are active during the day and they are usually solitary. They mark their own territory and mainly feed on insects and insect larvae.

Some species living near water bodies are excellent swimmers and divers, such as the European water shrew (Neomys fodiens) or the North American water shrew (Sorex parva).


Several European, Asian, and North American mole species spend a major part of their lives underground. Other species stay above ground, such as the American shrew mole (Neurot- richus gibbsii), while other moles have adapted very well to either an aquatic or semi-aquatic life.

Species digging and living in underground path systems have cylindrical bodies with short extremities and front feet adapted for burrowing. Most moles cannot see well—they have probably evolved to lose their sight as it was not needed for life underground.

Instead, they have highly developed touch and smell.


When shrew mothers are disturbed, they often move their offspring to a new hiding place. Initially they carry the young with their
mouths. Once they have grown bigger, some species will lead their offspring to a safer place by lining them up one after the other.

Each one bites and holds onto the tail of the shrew in front, creating a caravan. This avoids losing 9 offspring during the hasty move.


HEDGEHOGS roll up and raise their long and sharp spines when threatened.

This protects their bodies well from attackers, but does the exact opposite in the middle of the road. Every day, countless hedge- hogs die from road traffic.