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Facts About the Elephant Shrew

Rucha Phatak
Usually found in Africa, an elephant shrew bears a contradiction in the name itself. This tiny creature has a trunk-like nose and hops around just like rabbits do. Apart from its tricky classification, this story will enlighten you on the diet, habitat, and adaptations of the elephant shrew.

Did You Know?

Though not all, but a few elephant shrew species are considered as endangered. Those species are Golden-rumped elephant shrew, Checkered elephant shrew, Gray-faced elephant shrew, etc.
It took a while for scientists to get the classification of this creature right because an elephant screw bore a fancied resemblance to elephants because of its long-nosed trunk, while there was presumed to be a relationship with shrews in the order Insectivora (in the mid-19th century).
However later, scientists associated them with ungulates, primates, and rabbits. Contrary to expectation that it is similar to shrews, in the recent years, scientists found that elephant shrews are closely related to elephants, and categorized under a new clade of mammals called Afrotheria, which also includes elephants, sea cows, hyraxes, etc.
Thus, apart from discovering that they belonged to a class of their own, there were 19 species found that were native to Africa. Let us find out more about this fascinating creature.


Their assumed relation to the small creature, shrew, and their trunk-like nose granted them their name. These creatures are called jumping shrews due to the fact that they can hop using their long back legs. Elephant shrews are named as sengis as well in Bantu languages of Africa.


The elephant shrew belongs to class Mammalia and family Macroscelididae.


They belong to either of the 4 generas, which are Elephantulus, Macroscelides, Petrodromus, and Rhynchocyon. These 4 generas consist of 19 species, which are:
  • Short-snouted elephant shrew (Elephantulus)
  • Cape elephant shrew (Elephantulus)
  • Dusky-footed elephant shrew (Elephantulus)
  • Dusky elephant shrew (Elephantulus)
  • Bushveld elephant shrew (Elephantulus)
  • Eastern rock elephant shrew (Elephantulus)
  • Karoo rock elephant shrew (Elephantulus)
  • Somali elephant shrew (Elephantulus)
  • North African elephant shrew (Elephantulus)
  • Rufous elephant shrew (Elephantulus)
  • Western rock elephant shrew (Elephantulus)
  • Namib round-eared sengi (Macroscelides)
  • Etendaka round-eared sengi (Macroscelides)
  • Round-eared elephant shrew (Macroscelides)
  • Four-toed elephant shrew (Petrodromus)
  • Golden-rumped elephant shrew (Rhynchocyon)
  • Checkered elephant shrew (Rhynchocyon)
  • Black and rufous elephant shrew (Rhynchocyon)
  • Grey-faced sengi (Rhynchocyon)


◆ The average length of elephant shrews varies from 4 to 12 inches. However, the largest elephant shrew species, i.e., the Golden-rumped elephant shrew is around 11 inches with a tail length of 9 to 10 inches. The weight varies from 50-500 grams, with an exception of the Golden-rumped shrew, whose weight can go up to 550 grams.
◆ These creatures are small in size and walk on four legs resembling rodents. However, their hind legs are a little longer than the forelegs. They occasionally hop like a rabbit with their hind legs. Such a structure of their legs give them a characteristic hunchback posture.
◆ Another thing that distinguishes them from their rodent-like appearance is the long, trunk-like snout with nostrils at the end. As the snout is mobile, elephant shrews can twist while in search of food. It can be pulled back over the head during communication.
◆ Elephant shrews have large canine teeth as well as high-crowned teeth in their cheeks.

◆ Their tail has fine hair. It is usually slightly longer than their body.

◆ The color of their coat varies from black, brown, tan to white and gray depending upon the species. Ears and eyes are usually brown with a ring around their big eyes.


They can live up to 2-5 years in the wild.


◆ The species of elephant shrew are distributed across Africa. Elephant shrew habitat can range from dense forests, coastal shrubs, grasslands, to open plains. They can be found in any type of habitat. Only the North African elephant shrew lives in mountains.

◆ Some species dig a hole in the ground to nest, while others build the nest with leaves. Some other species use natural cracks as a nest.


◆ Though elephant shrews are considered as omnivores, their diet solely comprises insects. With their long trunk-like nose, they hunt worms, spiders, and other insects. They use their tongue to flick the food in their mouth. However, if the food is larger in size, they eat with their teeth, their cheeks turning their head sideways. The diet can be occasionally supplemented with small fruits, seeds, and new green leaves. They usually feed during the daylight.
◆ Snakes, lizards, and birds of prey are natural predators of elephant shrews.


◆ Elephant shrews are very active creatures. They are very well camouflaged. This makes them adapt to the nature, helping them escape from predators. They are called "super-fast runners." They can create pathways underground, which can be used to run away as well as to search for food.
◆ These creatures aren't very social animals, but many live in pairs. They share the responsibilities of their home territory. However, the sole purpose of the pairs is reproduction. Other than that, they do not care much about their partner and may have separate nests. However, they do keep track of each other using scent markings.
◆ They do not like trespassers. Male intruders are chased out by a male elephant shrew, and female intruders are chased out by a female elephant shrew. This may include screaming, snapping, kicking, etc.
◆ The female elephant shrew has similar menstrual cycle like a human female. The mating period lasts for several days. The gestation period is up to 45 - 60 days, which allows the female elephant shrew to give birth several times in a year. A female can give birth to around 3 litters at a time. After the babies are born, the mother and father live in their separate nests.
◆ Newly born litters are relatively well-developed at the time of their birth. For the first few days, they live on milk, which is later changed to mashed insects that the mother elephant shrew carries in her cheek for the litters. After 15 days of birth, young elephant shrews venture out of the nest to build their own nests. After 41 - 46 days, they become sexually active.