Of the many tenrec species that exist, our lab will be working on the lesser hedgehog tenrec (Echinops telfairi) in the near future. These small mammals are naturally found in dry subtropical or tropical areas of Madagascar. Tenrecs are unique from other mammals in that they have a low body temperature and metabolic rate relative to their body size. Their unique characteristics not seen in any most modern mammals could give us insight into the biology of the earliest mammalian species.
The lesser hedgehog tenrec is named after their resemblance to hedgehogs, both of which have sharp quills covering their dorsum which they use to protect themselves. Similar to our grad students, tenrecs curl into a ball, hiss, and grind their teeth when threatened in an effort to ward off predators. During the cold and dry season when food is scarce, tenrecs enter torpor usually for around three to five months at a time, but can be torpid for up to 11 months of the year total if environmental conditions are unfavourable. Torpor is a state of metabolic rate depression (MRD), in which the animal is inactive and their body temperature, heart rate, and metabolism all decrease in order to conserve energy. Given the tenrecs unique position as a “stem” mammal, studying the secrets of their biology could provide insight into the evolution and adaptation of mammalian MRD.