What is a Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec?
You likely have never heard of the Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec. Natives to Madagascar, they only recently made their way to the United States. Mostly seen in zoos or exotic animal collections. They are still incredibly rare animals within North America, but have began to grow in popularity in recent years.
The lesser Tenrec is a insectivorous mammal. Found in the dry forest and coastal regions in Madagascar. The Lesser tenrec is actually one of five types of tenrecs from the family Tenrecidae. Although may look similar to a hedgehog, they are not related.
The lesser spend most of their live in the trees. They are great climbers. You will often find them clinging to the side of their cage or on a high branch. New owners will need to purchase a cage with plenty of room for branches, hiding places, and a wheel for them to run on. Another stark difference between tenrecs and hedgehogs is Torpor. Torpor is the name of their hibernation. Torpor lasts for about 4-6 months during the winter (typically Sept/Oct through Feb/March). It is usually triggered by lower temperatures and/or seasonal changes in light, although it has been reported even in some tenrecs that are kept with the same temperature and light schedule year-round.
Daily handling is ideal, both to keep them socialized and accustomed to interaction with people, and to be able to get the most out of the relationship. They do not require focused, high-intensity attention, and instead do very well simply being with a person in whatever context best fits that individual's lifestyle and routine. They are not particularly delicate - they can be manhandled, turned on their back, pet and stroked, and generally messed with in various ways.
They are nocturnal animals and will be most active at night. Interaction tends to be more active and animated closer to the evening, with a tendency toward more sleeping and cuddling earlier in the day. Although they are not considered social animals, they are far more friendly than a traditional hedgehog. This is also highly dependent on how much human interaction they are accustomed to early in their life.
In the wild, a Lesser Tenrec’s typical lifespan is about 10 to 15 years. However, those raised in captivity can live a fair amount longer. Tenrecs can suffer of calcium deficiency and are prone to developing Metabolic Bone Disease (this bone Disease are known for lack of calcium or Vitamin D). To ensure your tenrec lives a long, happy, and healthy life it is important to add calcium and Vitamin D to their diet. Also providing plenty of room to explore, climb, and play.
The lesser hedgehog tenrec is classified as an insectivore, but is actually an omnivore. In addition to eating insects and their larvae on the ground or in trees, it can also prey upon small vertebrates and bird eggs and it occasionally consumes fruit. Most bred in captivity are raised on a mix of high protein cat food and a wide range of insects. Including meal worms, dubia roaches, superworms, or hornworms.
When a surplus of insects are available every day, tenrecs will sometimes snub kibble completely. This can often be remedied by reducing insects to only every other or every third day. Although tenrecs can be stubborn, complete refusal of a commercial balanced diet should not be tolerated
A comfortable enclosure size for a pair of tenrecs is approximately 18"x30" at the minimum, or slightly smaller for an individual. The floor of the cage should be solid. For wire-topped cages, the spacing between the bars should be as small as possible, as tenrecs are quite small and can make themselves much smaller when trying to squeeze through a small space. An enclosure with solid walls, such as a vivarium or a large, clear bin (with modified lid), is a better option.
The enclosure must have adequate space for a wheel, various climbing obstacles, and at least one (preferably several) hideaways. The best objects for climbing are textured to allow for an easy grip with their claws, such as wood/logs and various fleece or fabric items (i.e. for rats and sugar gliders). They need bowls for kibble, insects/treats, and water; they do not use water bottles.
Tenrecs are typically not overly sensitive to temperature changes, although a very large or extended decrease can trigger torpor behavior, which should be avoided during the warmer months. During the spring and summer, the cage should be kept at "room temperature" (68-72 F) or higher during daytime; minor overnight drops are normal. In colder households (due to air conditioning), if persistent low activity is observed, or if a tenrec is particularly delayed in coming out of winter torpor, occasional supplementary heat may be beneficial, in the form of a CHE (ceramic heat emitter) with thermostat, localized space heater, or small animal heating pad under part of the cage. The majority of tenrecs do not require the use of a dedicated heat source by default, and because their bodies are designed to go through seasonal and even day/night temperature fluctuations, habitual strict regulation of the cage temperature may actually have detrimental effects. However, a digital thermometer in the cage is recommended to accurately monitor the temperature, in order to be aware of normal patterns or unusual changes. During autumn and winter, when in torpor, the cage can be kept in the 60s.
Fun Fact: Scientists now think that the lesser hedgehog tenrec is really the cousin of elephants, aardvarks, and manatees.