Many types of animals are insectivores, meaning they live primarily off insects and other invertebrates. Many species of birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians fall into this group, as well as a semi-diverse group of mammals. Most insectivorous mammals are small, but some grow to be quite large. The geographic range of insectivores spans the globe, with many species native to North America.
Insectivora is a diverse group of small mammals composed of more than 400 species of moles, shrews, tenrecs, hedgehogs and the like. All of these rather small creatures have pointed snouts, sharp teeth and relatively small eyes. As the name of the group implies, members of Insectivora feed almost exclusively on insects, although many will occasionally take vegetative food or feed on small mammals, bird eggs or other items.
Shrews and Moles
Shrews are small, flat-bodied, soft-furred mammals that have particularly high metabolic rates that cause them to be constantly active throughout the day and night. Some species emit a venom that allows them sometimes to take down small mammals. The short-tailed shrew is one such example, but the venom is only painful to humans and not particularly medically significant. Moles are powerful insectivores that most spend the majority of their time underground in extensive burrow systems. The forefeet of moles are modified for digging.
Hedgehogs and Gymnures
Hedgehogs and gymnures are closely related and belong to the family Erinaceidae, which consists of seven genera and 17 species. These small to moderately sized mammals are native to Africa, Eurasia and southeast Asia, and some species -- notably hedgehog species -- are commonly found in the pet trade. Hedgehogs are identifiable by their spine-covered bodies; gymnures somewhat resemble large shrews.
Solenodons and Tenrecs
Only two species of solenodons remain and live in Haiti and Cuba; these mammals are larger than moles and shrews, reaching around a foot long and weighing around 2 pounds. The Cuban solenodon may possibly be extinct due to the introduction of mongooses, cats, rats and dogs. Tenrecs, on the other hand, are a largely diverse group of approximately 24 species. Most species are found on Madagascar, although others inhabit west-central Africa. Size varies greatly, from the small, shrew-like members of subfamily Oryzoryctinae; others are the size of house cat.
The family Myrmecophagidae consists of four species in three genera; members of this family are commonly known as anteaters. Although they don't belong to Insectivora, they are insectivores nonetheless. The smallest anteater weighs around 9 ounces while the largest, the giant anteater, weighs over 66 pounds. These creatures have greatly elongated snouts and long tongues. They lack teeth and instead rely on their sticky saliva and long, flexible tongue to capture ants and termites.
- Texas A&M University Kingsville: Jon A. Baskin, Ph.D: Infraclass Eutheria
- St. Olaf College: Small Mammals and Agriculture - A Study of Effects and Responses
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Erinaceidae
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Solenodon Cubanus
- Arkansas Forest Resources Center: Class Mammalia - Subclass Theria - Infraclass Eutheria - Order Insectivora: The Insectivores
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Myrmecophagidae
- John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images