Speculative Biology Sunday: Goliath Venom-Shrew

21 Mar

I was once told at a snake handling show that “the inland taipan has venom so potent that one drop could kill two Indian elephants or a mother-in-law.”
I was rather taken aback by this statement. There is a lot of meat on a …pair of elephants, and it is quite a shame that such a snake would never be able to fully appreciate the full potency of its deathly gift.

Then recently I stumbled on a Wikipedia article that made my imagination flare and sputter like a deep fryer. Venomous Mammals.

Out of the six species of venomous mammal in the world, I considered the Northern Short-tailed shrew to be the most promising, and got to work.

As always, add a couple of million years with some favourable conditions just the right selective pressures, and you get something quite interesting.


A tried and tested method of avoiding predators is to be too big. Sauropods, Elephants, Indricotheres, Megatherium, the list goes on. But now there is nolarge to hide.

Apex predator in its environment, the Goliath Venom-Shrew is probably the smallest predator of megafauna in earths history. Often hunting the largest herbivores in its environment, but will often take whatever it can get. A sit and wait predator, with explosive and swift hunts. It will wait at game trails or near watering holes wait for prey items to approach before exploding out the undergrowth and latching on with claws and teeth, but only ever long enough to let the venom seep into the wound from the lower incisors.

Anyone watching would then think that the Venom-Shrew was then deterred by the prey item clearly too large, too fast, and too strong to be brought down by such an ugly rat-like beast. The shrew lets go. The prey runs off, and the shrew does a very good job of looking rather disheartened and forlorn. The shrew goes and gets a drink, or sits in the shade for a while. After about an hour or so the shrew goes back to it where it lost its next meal and starts sniffing around, picks up the trail of the beast and meanders along until it finds “the one that got away”. Brought down by a slow acting venom, but nonetheless potent. He then proceeds to eat his fill from the more than substantial carcass. Having much more than it could possibly have needed it then gives a shoutout to whoever cares to listen. But who comes, is a plethora of other Venom-Shrews.

Altruism is a big part of how these animals get by. Successful hunts don’t happen as often as you think they would and can go a long time before they can get a proper kill. And when a kill does happen then the individual has much more than they need. So an altruistic response forms.

Being such a small animal though, more impressive carnivores would often think they might want to make a meal of this unimpressive twitchy little animal. Like many other animals with a dangerous bite or toxic skin, Venom-Shrews actively display how dangerous they really are. However being brightly coloured and conspicuous makes it hard to sneak up on food. So, quite fittingly, to display their potency of their bite, they have brightly coloured palates and tongues. So that they can actively display how dangerous they really are to potential threats, without compromising their camouflage to their prey.

So there you have it. A venomous mammalian predator with no size restriction to the size of potential prey times. Hope you like it.



3 Responses to “Speculative Biology Sunday: Goliath Venom-Shrew”

  1. Flaming_Penguin March 21, 2010 at 11:29 pm #

    Holy crap way awesome… Now to train an army of these things do to my bidding.

    Goliath online.

  2. Margaret Pye April 29, 2010 at 7:22 pm #

    That’s really clever! What kind of social lives do they have?

    • mitchbeard April 30, 2010 at 1:00 am #

      I pictured them as having a social life very much like that of a tasmanian devil. Solitary, tolerating each other at feeding event with a LOT of raucous squabbling.
      Haven’t thought about mating behaviours much though.
      Much like modern shrews perhaps? However that goes.

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