Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec

Echinops telfairi

Order: Afrosoricida

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • This species can be housed in larger aquarium style tanks or wire style enclosures as long as the wire enclosure can be kept sufficiently warm to prevent torpor.
  • You must provide a heat pad for tenrecs year round otherwise they can go into torpor during cooler times of the year. Any temperatures below 75 degrees seem to trigger the torpor state. Try to avoid torpor because it can by physiologically stressful for the animal. 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 the animal to find a cooler spot if it desires to.
  • Despite having a consistent year-round temperature in their permanent housing (74-76 degrees), the tenrecs at the Buffalo Zoo go through the torpor state on a yearly basis. We do not use additional heat sources and have an artificial light cycle that changes seasonally, with 13 hours of daylight from March to September and 12 hours of daylight from September to March. They typically enter the torpor state in September and come out in late February. During this time they go almost entirely off diet, experiencing weight fluctuations ranging from as low as 100-110 grams in February to as high as 200-210 grams in August. They are not handled during this time.
  • Tenrecs do not need a tremendous amount of space but do like multiple hides. The tenrecs at Philadelphia Zoo did not use exercise wheels but that may not be consistent across the species since this was only three animals and there are reports of tenrecs using exercise wheels in the private sector. Select wheels with solid or fine mesh to prevent foot and leg injuries from entanglement in the wheel. They are relatively good climbers and will use some vertical space but set up the environment so that an animal will not hurt itself if it falls. A good minimum enclosure size is 1.5′ x 2.5′ but plan on outside of enclosure exercise time if housing in minimum sized enclosures.
  • You can bed tenrecs on shavings (not cedar, preferably aspen), newspaper or mulch. With mulch, it can be difficult to spot fecal material which can make cleaning and monitoring fecal consistency and output more difficult.
  • Tenrecs will use a sand spot reliably as a litterbox area.
  • Provide at least one hide box for each animal. Position one of the hides over the heating pad.
  • Female tenrecs can be cohoused but males should be kept solitary.

Diet Requirements

  • In the wild, lesser hedgehog tenrecs eat insects and vegetable matter. They will occasionally also eat small vertebrates and insects.
  • When foraging, tenrecs use their snouts to root for insects. They will forage both on the ground and in trees.
  • In captivity, they are fed Mighty Dog canned dog food, cooked egg yolk, mealworms, and crickets.
  • At the Buffalo Zoo they are fed a mixture of Iams dry and wet kitten food, Mazuri insectivore and turkey baby food. We do not provide insects to prevent them from fixating on a favorite food item and rebuking the more nutritionally complete diet items.
  • Similarly, at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium we feed Mazuri Insectivore and a variety of produce items (apple, grape, banana, etc) and canned cat food on a rotating schedule. We also do not provide insects to prevent them from fixating on them.
  • Zoo Atlanta: non-torpor diet (March-Nov) is 20g insectivore chow, 3g veggies 3 x/week and 2-3 insects 3x/week.
    In torpor diet (Nov-March) is insectivore ad lib and 2-3 insects 3x/week.
  • If the animal gets dehydrated or malnourished during torpor try dipping their bugs in water and roll them in crushed insectivore chow so that when they do eat them they get some water and nutrition.

Veterinary Concerns

  • The tenrecs at Philadelphia Zoo have had a history of 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.

Notes on Enrichment & Training

  • Scent enrichments are very well utilized by tenrecs.
  • They are more limited in their reaction to objects like balls and do not manipulate items with food hidden inside. They will search for scattered food.
  • Tenrecs at the Philadelphia Zoo have been desensitized to handling through positive reinforcement. These animals were trained by placing on handlers’ laps on towels and hand feeding mealworms when they would uncurl. With repetition, the tenrecs no longer curl up defensively when picked up and handled.


Colony or Breeding Management


Individual Identification


Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines



Tips on Presentation

  • Lesser tenrecs can be easily displayed in a plastic critter carrier for demonstrations. This is especially useful for active animals. When in torpor they can handled easily. Depending on the individual animal’s temperament, light gloves may be necessary to protect from bites.
  • If possible, holding a tenrec up exposing it’s underbelly is a great way to demonstrate their unprotected, vulnerable area.

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling

  • Tenrecs are easy to desensitize to handling and can be handled by novice handlers. Gloves can be used to make handling more comfortable.
  • A thick fleece blanket or pad, kept between the animal and the handler’s fingers, can be of some use against quills and teeth.
  • Combining a feeding session with presentations may lead to more bites; vision seems poor in this species, and the scent of mealworms on a keeper’s fingers may be the trigger for a quick nip.


Potential Messaging

  • Exotic animals make bad pets. Tenrecs are wild animals and have not been domesticated, which is why zookeepers typically wear gloves when handling them. Instead consider adopting/rescuing a domesticated hedgehog.
  • As a group, tenrecs are a wonderful example of convergent evolution, with individual species that resemble otters, shrews, moles, hedgehogs, or mice.
  • Cell Phones – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: The Congo region and the island of Madagascar are extensively mined for coltan and other minerals that go into cell phones, tablets, and computers. Natural habitat, frequently in areas that are legally protected, is lost for wildlife, trees and topsoil scraped away. In addition, toxins from discarded electronics leach out of local landfills and contaminate waterways here at home. Please ask guests to think twice before replacing their electronic devices and to recycle their old ones when they do. http://www.houstonzoo.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Why-should-I-recycle-my-cell-phone.pdf
  • Wood – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle:One of the best ways for people to help the rainforest is to reduce their use of tropical woods. Flooring, musical instruments, picture frames and other products made of rosewood should be particularly avoided to slow deforestation on Madagascar and to avoid the extinction of endangered or vulnerable rosewood tree species from forests all around the equator. Ask guests to consider used or vintage furniture or new furniture made of wood that has been reclaimed from old structures. There are many alternatives to conventional lumber including flooring and other products made from fast-growing bamboo, and decking made of recycled plastic formed to look like wooden boards. http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/rainforest-threats/ http://www.globaltrees.org/tp_d_nigra.htmhttp://www.rainforestrelief.org/What_to_Avoid_and_Alternatives/Rainforest_Wood/What_to_Avoid_What_to_Choose/By_Tree_Species/Tropical_Woods/R/Rosewood.html

Acquisition Information


  • This species can be hard to acquire as not many institutions are breeding them regularly. Check ZIMS for which institutions hold populations and inquire directly to see if they are breeding or have surplus.
  • Cincinnati Zoo has a propagation group set up to produce animals for programs. Production is somewhat limited. Contact David A. Oehler if you are interested.



Comments from the Rating System

  • Buffalo Zoo: unusual for programming for seasonal torpor
  • National Zoo: Can be nippy, especially during breeding season. Easily touchable by small groups while in torpor.
  • Philadelphia Zoo: similar to a pygmy hedgehog
  • Pittsburgh Zoo: Staff is required to handle gloves as a precaution as we have had a couple of tenrecs that were nippy.
  • Toledo Zoo: I have dealt with animals that bite a lot.
  • Zoo New England, Stone Zoo: exciting animals, but ours bite often despite being handled frequently. Ok to handle until they warm up/wake up. Great teaching tool, though!

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Lesser hedgehog tenrecs are found in western and south-western Madagascar. They are mostly confined to arid regions, such as dry forests, scrub, dry coastal areas, and semidesert. They den in cavities: either cavities that they find, such as tree cavities, or in burrows they dig for themselves.

Physical Description

As one would guess from its name, lesser hedgehog tenrecs look a lot like hedgehogs, with small, stout bodies, defensive spines, and a very small tail. The spines can be erected, just like a hedgehog. The limbs and muzzle are of moderate length, and the ears are prominent. Coloration of tenrecs can vary, ranging from a pale, almost white color to a very dark color. Coloration depends on the amount of melanin in the quills.
The average length is 5 to 7 inches long, and they weigh about 7 ounces. The body temperature of this species ranges from 86 to 95 degrees F.

Life Cycle

Breeding season starts in October in the wild, and young are typically born in December to January.
In zoos in the Northern Hemisphere, breeding coincides with their active season, meaning breeding behavior could begin as early as April, with litters following in the early summer with multiple litters possible.
Gestation is cited as 42-49 days, but can be as long as 60 days. Litters can be anywehre from 1 to 10 babies, with 5 to 7 being cited as the most common.
Females typically create a nest for the babies. The mother will leave the nest after birth for food, but will spend the majority of her time with the babies. Babies are born with very tiny spines. By the fifth day of life, babies will have a glistening coat of spines. Eyes will open around day nine. Babies will start to venture out of the nest around day 10 with mom trying to keep them in the nest. Soon after, babies will begin to sample solid food. Babies will live with the mother for 30 to 35 days in the wild. In zoos, female offspring can stay with the dam if the sire is removed and no aggression is seen. Male offspring should be removed during the first torpor as babies will become reproductively mature after awakening from their first torpor.
Lifespan in the wild is typically up to 5 years. In zoos, lesser hedgehog tenrecs can live around 10 years, although one extremely aged individual at the Philadelphia Zoo lived to 13 years, and the National Zoo housed two females, litter mates, together for 17 years.


  • This species is strictly nocturnal. They are also usually solitary; males in particular are quite territorial. Communication between tenrecs is tactile and chemical in nature; there are only a few auditory signals.
  • During the cold season, tenrecs will undergo torpor for three to five months.
  • Male tenrecs will excrete a white fluid from their eyes. This is a normal behavior and the fluid is used to mark territory.

Threats and Conservation Status

  • This species is quite common, although population density is lower in logged areas. Common predators include snakes, birds of prey, native carnivores, and domestic dogs and cats.

Did you know…

  • There are a total of 34 different species of tenrec. Most species are found in Madagascar; a few are found on the African mainland.
  • Females emit odors during the mating season that causes males to secrete a milky white substance from glands near their eyes. Both sexes will emit the same milky substance when they are stressed or excited.
  • Taxonomists used to believe that tenrecs were closely related to shrews and moles, but genetic studies performed in the last decade indicate they are in fact most closely related to elephants, aardvarks, manatees, elephant-shrews, hyraxes, and golden moles.
  • Scientists suspect that tenrecs, like lemurs, reached Madagascar by “rafting” on floating mats of vegetation across the Mozambique Channel that separates Madagascar from Africa.




Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.

Contributors and Citations

  • The Philadelphia Zoo
  • Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters
  • National Zoo

Top Photo: By Wilfried Berns http://www.Tierdoku.com – Transferred from de.wikipedia to Commons.Orig. source: eigene Fotografie, CC BY-SA 2.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2242515