There are about 30 tenrec species, classified in 8 genera. The common tenrec, Tenrec ecaudatus, is one of the world's largest insectivores. It is tailless, with a body length of 12 to 16 in. (30–41 cm). Its coat is a yellow-brown mixture of hair, bristles, and spines. The hedgehog tenrec, Setifer setosus, resembles a true hedgehog. The short-haired rice tenrecs, genus Oryzorictes, are molelike animals whose tunneling causes much damage in rice fields. The long-tailed tenrec, Microgale longicaudata, is mouselike in size and appearance, with a tail two and a half times its body length, and it is able to jump. The water tenrec, Linmogale mergulus, is a rat-sized aquatic animal with webbed feet and a keeled tail. The streaked tenrecs, genus Hemicentetes, make ultrasonic calls by rubbing specialized spines on their backs together.
All tenrecs are nocturnal, most hibernate in the winter, and many are dormant in hot weather. They live on a diet of small animals, chiefly worms and insects. Females have as many as twenty-two teats and give birth to litters of fifteen to twenty young.
The giant water shrews of the central African forest belong to the subfamily Potamogalinae (sometimes considered a family, Potamogalidae) of the Tenrecidae. These animals are otterlike in appearance and way of life, with fine fur and a laterally compressed tail. Other animals called water shrews are members of the true shrew family.
Tenrecs are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Afrosoricida, families Tenrecidae.
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