The elephant shrew, widely distributed in the southern region of Africa, is a small four-legged mammal that resembles a rodent or pouch-bearing animal like the Opot, but seems to be closely related to elephants, as its name suggests. Its ancestors lived during the Paleogene era, approximately 66-23 million years ago. Despite being classified into various groups based on their physical characteristics, recent evidence suggests that they belong to the Afrotheria group, possibly close to the Paenungulata.
The elephant shrew, also known as the "sengi," primarily feeds on insects, spiders, millipedes, and earthworms. They use their long noses to search for prey and their tongues to pick up small pieces of food, similar to anteaters. However, hunting larger prey can be challenging; an elephant shrew struggling with an earthworm must first pin the prey down with its front legs. Then, it turns its head to the side and chews small pieces with its cheek teeth, similar to a dog gnawing on a bone. This process is clumsy, and many small pieces of the worm fall to the ground, which the shrew simply picks up with its tongue. Some species of elephant shrew also eat small amounts of vegetation, especially new leaves, seeds, and fruits.
Several fossil species of elephant shrews are known, all originating from Africa. They are distinct from the similar-looking Leptictida order. A significant diversification of elephant shrew species occurred during the Paleogene era. Some, like Myohyrax, resemble hyraxes so much that they were initially included in that group, while others, like Mylomygale, are relatively rodent-like. These bizarre creatures all went extinct during the Pleistocene era. Despite being classified into various groups based on their physical characteristics, recent molecular and morphological evidence suggests that they belong to the Afrotheria group, possibly close to the Paenungulata.
Elephant shrews are fascinating creatures with a unique appearance and behavior. They are widely distributed in the southern region of Africa and have a close relationship with elephants, as their name suggests. Despite their small size, they play an essential role in the ecosystem by controlling insect populations. Their unusual feeding behavior is a testament to their adaptability and resourcefulness in the wild.