Notes on the Habits and External Characters of the Solenodon of San Domingo (Solenodon paradoxus).
By A. Hyatt Verrill.
Mr. A. H. Verrill on the Solenodon of San Domingo
Although Solenodon paradoxus of San Domingo and Haiti was discovered and imperfectly described as early as 1839, several years before the Cuban species (Solenodon cubanus) was known to science, it is still practically unknown to recent zoologists. The published descriptions of this rare and interesting mammal are vague and unsatisfactory. For many years it has been commonly considered extinct, and when, in December 1906, I undertook a collecting-trip to San Domingo with the avowed intention of obtaining the Solenodon, prominent zoologists stated that the quest was hopeless, one of them saying that I would be as likely to secure specimens of ghosts as of Solenodon paradoxus.
During the five months spent on the island I devoted a great deal of time hunting for the Solenodon and in interviewing natives from the remote and little-known parts of the island.
I soon found that the animal was well known to the natives in certain isolated localities, but that over the greater portion of the Republic it was absolutely unknown.
This is readily accounted for by the presence of the mongoose in most parts of the country, and it is only a question of time when this pest will overrun the entire island and the Solenodon will become actually exterminated.
The natives have several names for the Solenodon, calling it "Orso," "Milqui," " Homigero," and "Juron," while the English-speaking negroes from the British West Indies know it as "Ground Hog." The name "Juron" (ferret) is also applied to the mongoose, and for some time I was misled by this confusion of the two animals. In its habits the Solenodon resembles a hog, rooting in the earth and cultivated grounds, tearing rotten logs and trees to pieces with its powerful front claws, and feeding on ants, grubs, insects, vegetables, reptiles, and fruit, and at times proving destructive to poultry. On several occasions it has been known to enter the houses in search of roaches and other vermin, and has been captured iu rat-traps.
It is strictly nocturnal, and spends the day in caves, holes in the coral-limestone rocks and in hollow trees and logs. It is a slow, stupid creature. It is unable to run rapidly, but shambles along with the zigzag sidewise motions of a plantigrade. It is doubtless owing to this that it obtained the native name of "Orso" (bear).
Its long snout and stout front feet, with their curved claws, and its thick short neck prove impediments to forward progress. According to the natives, it is incapable of running straight. They also claim that when pursued it frequently trips itself and tumbles heels over head. When hunted with dogs, it thrusts its head into the nearest hole or shelter, and allows itself to be captured without resistance.
The only specimen that I obtained was a female, which was captured alive and uninjured. A few days after its capture it gave birth to three naked young. These the mother promptly devoured, and she died three days later.
This specimen (see PI. IV.), as preserved in formol, is 14 inches in length, exclusive of the tail, which measures about 13 inches in length.
The body and head are covered with sparse coarse hair, which is reddish ferruginous from the eyes to the shoulders and dusky brown on the rest of the body.
The hair becomes very thin and scattered on the hindquarters, which for some distance on the back and sides are naked, roughly corrugated, and warty, with a sparse, short, woolly growth between the excrescences.
The legs, snout, and eyelids are naked, and, with the bare skin of the rump, are pinkish white. The ears are short, thin, rounded, and are bluish grey with light edges. The heavy rat-like tail is dark brown and naked. The claws are horn-colour. The front feet and claws are large, heavy, and mole-like, and well adapted to digging and tearing asunder rotten wood &c. They are much smaller in proportion than in the Cuban species, however. The snout is also more flexible than in S. cubanus, from which it also differs in the naked skin of the rump, the colour, size, and other characters.