Though small, mostly nocturnal creatures, insectivores play a vital role in nature. They eat millions of insects every night, making them critical to pest control. Many insectivores, like moles, shrews, and tenrecs, resemble rodents, while hedgehogs and bats have unique features. Whatever their appearance, insectivores have similar diets and munch on everything from insect larvae to moths.
Roughly 20 mole species live in the Americas and Eurasia where they burrow below ground, creating tunnels to find earthworms, slugs and insect larvae to eat. Because moles have poor eyesight and don't have a good sense of smell they rely on their whiskers, which are extremely sensitive to movements, to find food, water, and shelter in the dark.
Native to Eurasia, hedgehogs act as natural pest control mechanisms, consuming a variety of insects from moth larvae to beetles, in many homes where they are kept as pets. Barbs cover the backs of all of the 10 species of hedgehogs to protect the small animal from predators.
Shrews have long, pointy noses and make high-pitched squeaks, distinguishing them from other more elusive mammalian insectivores. While they are commonly found in British hedgerows, more than 200 species exist worldwide. Voracious eaters, shrews consume close to their body weight in earthworms, slugs, woodlice and other insects each day.
Not all of the world's more than 1,100 bats consume insects exclusively; some are carnivores while others consume fish, fruit or pollen. However, those bats that are insectivorous, like the California Leaf-nosed Bat, Big Brown Bat, Cave Myotis and Mexican Free-tailed bats, are avid eaters. One bat can devour well over 600 mosquitoes in an hour. Bats use echolocation to find their prey and then gulp down any flying or ground-dwelling insect they can find.
One of the more unknown insectivorous mammals is the tenrec. These creatures inhabit Africa, but are most abundant in Madagascar where the approximately 25 species have adapted to live in both water and on land. Like the hedgehog, the tenrec has sharp barbs on its body and curls up in a ball when exposed to danger.
- University of Connecticut College of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Unit 4 Lesson 3: Insectivores
- Merriam-Webster: Examples of insectivorous mammals
- Young People's Trust for the Environment: Mole
- Young People's Trust for the Environment: Shrew (Common)
- Bat World: "Cool Stuff to Make You Smarter"
- Photo Credit hedgehog image by DOLPHIN from Fotolia.com
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