Meet the golden rumped elephant shrew, owner of one of the most magnificent bottoms in the animal kingdom, world champion skedaddler and he’s not even a shrew… in fact he’s more elephant than shrew.
Despite looking just like a shrew this fellow, like the rest of the elephant shrews and indeed the tree shrews, is not related… they don’t even get a card from the shrews at Christmas… yes quite it is that fellow convergent evolution we keep on going on about. It seems likely that the elephant shrews are closely related to the elephants, armadillos and hyrax but even that is debated.
Of course the elephant shrews have been so-called not because of modern genetic cladistic analyses to postulate phylogenetic trees… but because they’ve got a bally big trunk on their face. It uses this great big nose to root around in the leaf litter looking for tasties; grasshoppers, beetles and the like. It’s a bit of a bother when it does actually manage to eat something, to eat a worm it has to hold it with its foot, chew it on the side of its face… big nose remember… and then flick bits of worm into his mouth. No you are right he is dreadful company to take out for supper… though he is quite delightful company in all other respects.
Though it’s not his lineage or his manners that make this chap a real corker in The Proceedings of the Ever so Strange… it’s that he has evolved more ways of getting away from persuants than the French.
First off, if the predator is far enough away, he legs it… and at quite a speed… up to 25kmh, incredibly fast for such a wee chap.
If the golden rumped tree shrew is unfortunate enough to be too close to the predator he does something rather unusual. Instead of keeping his head down and trying to hide, he does quite the opposite, in fact he goes absolutely stark raving bonkers. He causes a right hullabaloo, slapping the leaf litter to make a racket… the idea is to send a message to the predator… goading it not to waste time attacking him… which apparently works some of the time. An unusual method of predator avoidance this may be, but it has been demonstrated a number of times and it’s about a show of fitness. Skylarks when being chased by a bird of prey will often sing, the message to the predator is ‘not only can I outrun you but I can do it with a little ditty’ and remarkably it has been shown that Merlin and the like give up the chase much quicker when the Skylark is singing. I can’t resist one more example of this demonstration of fitness; a type of Anolis lizard when he spots a snake will start doing push ups… the message is simple… not only can I see you but I’m in tip top condition and ready for a ruck.
In the event this demonstration of fitness doesn’t work… it’s wonder bottom to the rescue, the elephant shrew’s golden rump attracts attention, and as he scurries off through the undergrowth… the cad that’s trying to eat him will more often than not strike at his bedazzling rear… his rump is rather tough and so helps to stave off any blows. What’s more this elephant shrew’s bottom is so beguiling it means that the predator will go for it rather than its head, thus he’s much more likely to live.
His final tactic to stop from being eaten is to maintain a number of nests so that predators can never associate their nests with food.
A real roister doister I’m sure you’ll agree!