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.

Shrew Scutisorex thori

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.

Share this page

Latest news

  • Recent Sir Henry Dale Fellowship appointments 27 March 2015 The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, has today published a list of recent recipients of the prestigious Sir Henry Dale Fellowships. The scheme is run together with the Wellcome Trust.
  • An elephant never forgets the way to the watering hole 25 March 2015 A study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B tracked the movement of elephants across the African savannah. The elephants chose the shortest distances towards watering holes, pin-pointing the location of valuable resources even when they were 50 km away. The results show that elephants have good spatial memories.

For a full archive please see the news pages.