Solenodons are nocturnal, burrowing, insectivorous mammals belonging to the family Solenodontidae. Only one genus, Solenodon, is known, although a few other genera were erected at one time and are now regarded as junior synonyms. The Solenodontidae family is interesting to phylogenetics researchers due to its retention of primitive mammal characteristics; their species resemble very closely those that lived near the end of the age of the dinosaurs.
The two living solenodon species are the Cuban Solenodon (Solenodon cubanus), and the Haitian or Hispaniolan Solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus). The group was once much more widespread throughout North America, including genera such as Apternodus from the Oligocene.
Solenodons resemble very large shrews, and are often compared to them; with extremely elongated cartilaginous snouts, long, naked, scaly tails, small eyes, and coarse, dark brown to black hair. The snout is flexible, and in the Hispaniola Solenodon, actually has a ball-and-socket joint at the base to increase its mobility. This allows the animal to investigate narrow crevices where potential prey may be hiding. Between 28-32 centimeters (11-13 inches) long from nose to rump, and weighing between 700–1,000g (25–35oz), solenodons are known to become very easily agitated and may squeal or bite with little or no provocation.
Solenodons have a few intriguing traits, two of them being the position of the teats (2) on the female, almost on the buttocks of the animal, and the second being the venomous saliva that flows from modified salivary glands in the mandible through grooves on the second lower incisors ("solenodon" derives from the Greek "grooved tooth"). Solenodons are among a handful of venomous mammals.
The diet of solenodons consists largely of insects, earthworms, and other invertebrates, but they also eat vertebrate carrion, and perhaps even some living vertebrate prey such as small reptiles or amphibians. Solenodons have a relatively unspecialised, and almost complete, dentition, with a dental formula of:
Solenodons give birth in a nesting burrow, to one or two young. The young remain with the mother for several months, and initially follow the mother about by hanging onto her elongated teats. Once they reach adulthood, solenodons are solitary animals, who rarely interact except to breed.