Tenrec, also known as lesser hedgehog is native to Madagascar but despite it looking like a hedgehog, it’s not. They behave similar to a hedgehog but go into a sleep period called torpor when the temperature drops. For in store collection only.
They have modified hairs, like hedgehogs, which is why many people either pass them off as hedgehogs or as hedgehog relatives. Their faces are cuter/uglier then hedgehogs with tiny beady eyes and a long snout. Tenrecs are actually more closely related to elephants, manatees and aardvarks then they are to hedgehogs.
In the wild tenrecs naturally stop eating and constantly sleep during a period of time called torpor. It is like hibernation, but not as deep of a sleep, from which they may or may not get up to drink or eat. Some owners of tenrecs get “uptight” when they go into torpor, which is understandable considering it is a pretty strange feeling for their tenrec to not eat, not lose weight, not defecate and sleeping constantly. However, caring for tenrecs, involves riding out the state of torpor, a natural process. In the wild it would allow tenrecs to survive the season of intense heat and lack of food.
Tenrecs are solitary animals, but usually do well in small groups. Males must be kept by themselves or with a few females. Many have had good luck keeping females in small groups. If you do choose to have your male with a female, you will likely end up with babies in the spring or summer time.
When foraging, tenrecs use their snouts to root for insects. They forage both on the ground and in trees.
They can be desensitized to handling through positive reinforcement. Place them on your lap with a towel underneath and hand feed them mealworms when they uncurl. With repetition, the y will no longer curl up defensively when picked up and handled.
Housing for your tenrec may be very simple or quite elaborate. A nice choice would be a reptile aquarium with a couple of different substrates on each side (pine, sand, bark, coconut fiber). They enjoying climbing on branches and like to hide in caves. If you provide them with a dish of sand (see reptile sand), they will use it to roll around in to take a sand bath and clean their faces. If you leave the sand box in there at all times, most will end up using it as a litter box. Tenrecs also enjoy running on exercise wheels where they receive quite a bit of exercise.
Whatever type of housing you choose, a water bowl is required as they are not known to drink from a water bottle, only from from bowls.
To make tenrecs happy, they should have a large cage, something to climb on, a wheel, a place to hide and plenty of fresh food and water. Some appear to even enjoy being snuggled.
The ideal temperature for tenrecs is between 20 and 25°C. During their torpid time the cooler temperature is the best. Once they start to wake from this sluggish state, increase the temperature to the higher end of the range. They can become very active during the summer months and seem to enjoy the higher temps.
You should provide a heat pad for tenrecs year round otherwise they can go into torpor during cooler times of the year. Any temperatures below 24°C seem to trigger the torpor state. Try to avoid torpor because it can by physiologically stressful for them. Also do not use heat “rocks” like the type used for reptiles unless you have it attached to a thermostat/rheostat to control the temperature. Hot rocks used without temperature control can cause burns on the animal. Make sure to provide a temperature gradient with the heat source so the animal can move to a zone of comfort. If the heat pad covers the whole enclosure bottom, it is not possible for your tenrec to find a cooler spot if it desires to.
Nutritional requirements for a captive Tenrec is fairly simple. In the wild, they eat live insects, small vertebrates, and vegetable matter. Feed a varied mix of dry cat food, hedgehog food, mealworms, wax worms and scrambled eggs. You can vary the diet by feeding crickets, cockroaches and/or hissing roaches. Also try apples, bananas and some jarred baby foods
A variety of different foods may be necessary throughout the year. Their appetite and tastes can change with the seasons and as they become torpid. During this time they have a very small appetite and their body temperature can drop. This helps them to conserve energy. Special care will need to be taken during this period to make sure they are remaining hydrated and at least nibbling on some food. When offering your tenrec food, it should be lightly dusted with a calcium powder.
Some problems with tenrecs are teeth problems and dry skin issues. The problems with teeth can be mitigated by providing diets with hard biscuit and dry skin can be managed with increasing humidity in the environment.