Short-eared Elephant-Shrews
                                                Macroscelides proboscideus

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Social structure and home ranges
Activity and life habits
Reproduction and development of young
 

Social structure and home ranges

Curious BiffyShort-eared elephant-shrews live solitary in undefended home ranges, which can reach a size up to 1 km² and include hunting areas and shelters. The hiding places are mostly located under stones, roots or bush, the animals are able to enlarge their refuge very quickly by digging.

They also take refuge in deserted shelters of suricates (Viverridae) or gerbils (Gerbillidae). "E-Shrews" clean their shelters from sand, little stones etc. by using their forelegs, therefore they are resting on the bare ground. Elephant-shrews do not use any nest material.

Hunting areas and shelters of short-eared elephant-shrews are connected by a network of trails. These "highways" result  in a passive way, when the animals always run along the same paths. The trails are also conducted and kept up acitvely, when the animals kick away sand, little stones, parts of plants and other disturbing objects by movement of the left or right foreleg. This behavior can be triggered in captivity, when small objects like a paper ball are put on the trail. The importance of this behavior is clear: the animals are able to move very quickly from one place to the other and therefore the chance to be killed by a predator is reduced. Additionally, the animals can run with speeds up to 20 km/h. 

Activity and life habits


Short-eared elephant-shrews are well adapted to the climatic restrains of their natural habit and the activity of their prey species by a crepuscular and nocturnal activity. Unfortunately the activity of short-eared elephant-shrews was always described as diurnal in the past, and even today this characteristic is still haunting through literature. But I could find out during working on my thesis that short-eared elephant-shrews are crepuscular and nocturnal in their activity, whereby 69,8 % of activity takes place during night (18-06 h) and only 30,2 % during day (06-18 h).

During dusk, when the animals become active, they start foraging by sniffing with their mobile nose in crevices between stones, under roots etc. Acoustic and olfactorial sense play an important role. In older literature short-eared elephant-shrews are described as strictly insectivore. But recent observations indicate that the animals also - beside insects and other evertebrates - feed on herbage and seeds - depending on what their natural habit offers (G. I. H. KERLEY [1995]: The Round-eared Elephant-Shrew Macroscelides proboscideus [Macroscelidea] as an omnivore. Mammal Rev. 25 [1/2]. p. 39-44).

At the end of the night the animals return to their shelters. From time to time they also lay in the sun and doze. But during resting the animals are still very attentive and flee with the smallest disturbance to their shelter.
 
 
Biffy stretching ... ... and resting

Resting is sometimes interrupted for sand bathing. This behaviour, which is also found in many rodents, is an important aspect of marking behavior, because the individual scent of the animal is transferred to the substrate. On the other hand sandbathing is a kind of cleaning behavior, because dirt and fat are removed from the fur, which maintains its isolating function.
scratch scratchThe soft fur of the animals is also cleaned with tongue, teeth and forefeet that are used in hamster´s way. Using their hind legs for scratching short-eared elephant-shrews can clean any part of their body, for example the area above nose and eyes and the auricles. 

Reproduction and development of the young

For breeding the solitary males go in search for rutting females using the female´s olfactorial tracks for orientation. When two have found each other, they stay together for some days, after successful mating they part and go their own ways again. The mating system of related elephant-shrews is described as monogamy. For short-eared elephant-shrews there is no clear evidence for this, but E. G. FRANZ SAUER was speaking in 1973 of a "system of latent pair-bond", which results of the repeated mating of neighboring animals.

After a gestation of 56 days the female gives birth to 1-2 young, in a shelter apart from her own refuge (an adaptation for preventing predators). The young are born precocial, this means they are fully haired, eyes are opened and already a few minutes after birth they are able for moving. The first time of their life they stay in their shelter and are left on their own most of the time. Only for nursing they are visited several times during the night by the female. After 5 days the young are fed additionally to the milk mashed insects, which are collected and transported from the female in her cheek pouches. By and by the young start exploring their environment and a playful hunting for insects. With the 15th day of life a migratory phase starts, causing a loosening of the social bonds between the young and their mother. The young establish their own home ranges and become sexually mature with 41-46 days. 


regina.unger@gmx.at