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Unique spine gives ‘Hero Shrew’ super-strength

24 July 2013

Title: A new hero emerges: another exceptional mammalian spine and its potential adaptive significance

Authors: William T. Stanley, Lynn W. Robbins, Jean M. Malekani, Sylvestre Gambalemoke Mbalitini, Dudu Akaibe Migurimu, Jean Claude Mukinzi, Jan Hulselmans, Vanya Prévot, Erik Verheyen, Rainer Hutterer, Jeffrey B. Doty, Benjamin P. Monroe, Yoshinori J. Nakazawa, Zachary Braden, Darin Carroll, Julian C. Kerbis Peterhans, John M. Bates and Jacob A. Esselstyn

Journal: Biology Letters

Journal of the Royal Society: Biology Letters today describes a new species of the mysterious 'Hero Shrew', which has been discovered in Africa.

Scientists first described the Hero Shrew, nicknamed for its extraordinary strength, over a century ago.  Now scientists from the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, have found a new, smaller-skulled species of the Hero Shrew which they have called Scutisorex thori.

Dr William Stanley and his team, who discovered the new species in central Africa, claim that massive interlocking vertebrae are what give the animals extra strength. No mammal other than the Hero Shrew has these unusual vertebrae, and there has previously been no suitable explanation for the benefits of this peculiar spine.

The new species has fewer lower vertebrae and more robust and flattened ribs than its relatives. Dr Stanley suggests that this arrangement allows it leverage heavy objects to gain access to worms and grubs that are inaccessible to other animals.

Stanley adds that the unique cranial and vertebral features of the new species, along with DNA analysis, suggest that it represents a ‘missing link’ between the Hero Shrew and other shrews.