This Cute Little Guy Desperately Wants To Poison You

Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be "he wants to envenomate you", since this recently "extinct" little creature can bite you and pump you full of venom. It's one of the few venomous mammals on Earth, and perhaps the only one that injects venom exactly the way a snake does.

The particular solenodon pictured above is a Hispaniolan solenodon, found in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Its cousin, the Cuban solenodon, was thought to be extinct up to about two years ago, when it was rediscovered after some reported sightings and a ten year search. That might be good news for conservationists, who are thrilled that an animal that survived the comet that wiped out the dinosaurs hasn't been killed off by cats and logging. Other people might not be so pleased.

The solenodon looks like a big shrew, and is in the same order as shrews, though not the same family. Like shrews, it has venom. Unlike shrew venom, which doesn't kill its prey, solenodon venom can kill small animals within a few hours. That's actually good news for its prey — the shrew eats the prey alive over the course of a couple of days — but bad news for people who hang around solenodons. A shrew bite's no walk in the park, but the solenodon, which can get up to 30 centimeters long, causes hands and feet to swell up like balloons, shooting pain to run up and down the bitten limb, and an intense burning pain at the site of the bite. Like snakes, solenodons "inject" the venom through slots in their teeth, so it gets deep.

Venom is little good if it isn't used correctly. Although the solenodon will bite the hell out of researchers trying to hold it (which is why nearly all pictures of solenodons include scientists wearing cartoonishly outsized gloves), it doesn't tend to use the venom in a fight. For the most part, it curls up and hides its head, which means it is easy prey for cats and dogs. People are mounting efforts to keep the solenodon around — because we clearly don't know what's good for us — but it remains endangered. And testy.

Image: The Last Survivors.

[Via The BBC, Toxinology.com, Scientific American]