Here’s why a hero shrew has the sturdiest spine of any mammal

Tuesday, April 28, 2020 - 18:10 in Paleontology & Archaeology

At first glance, hero shrews don’t appear to live up to their name. But these fuzzy, molelike animals are the Clark Kents of the shrew world, with superpowers hidden beneath their humble exteriors. Their backbones are like nothing else in the animal kingdom: the vertebrae interlock, making the spine extremely strong and rigid when compressed.  Now a 3-D analysis of the bone structure reveals that the vertebrae are exceptionally dense, with neatly reinforcing struts that lend toughness too. That structure may provide insight into how these unique backbones may benefit the animals in nature, researchers report April 28 in Proceedings B of the Royal Society. Two hero shrew species (Scutisorex) can be found in the palm forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their strength astonished American and European explorers in the 1910s, when Congo’s local Mangbetu people reportedly demonstrated that an adult man could step on the animal — only the heft of a deck of cards — without causing any harm.  “That story...

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