The Lesser Tenrec is a small hedgehog type species from Madagascar. Its habitats include subtropical or tropical dry forests, dry forests, dry savannah, subtropical or tropical dry shrub land, and subtropical or tropical dry lowland grassland. Often confused with the Greater Tenrec species which is somewhat larger and darker in color.
The Lesser Tenrec comes in several shades of brown from chocolate to apricot in color and often shows several shades of color throughout the body as opposed to the stable color in most hedgehog species. So it’s not uncommon to have a tenrec of chocolate on the back fading to a near apricot along the sides. They are smaller than the APH in general and grow to approximately the size of a small sub adult APH. Males are generally smaller than females and can only be told apart by a slight difference in the head shape and the bald patches around the eyes. There are no visible sexual organs to be seen. The spines are shorter and somewhat softer than the APH and continue to cover the tail.
In a captive setting there are a few options to keep these well, the enclosure should be of a reasonable size and be a minimum of 40” long by 15”wide by 24 “ high. But bigger is always better. The enclosure should take into account there need to exercise and climb to explore. Many people have mentioned a problem with their tenrec running off surfaces and injuring themselves after being placed on tables etc. And advise not letting them climb. This is not however correct, if the tenrec is allowed to climb their way up to a structure your tenrec will be sure footed and a very skilled climber that rarely if ever falls. Tenrecs have a very small and primitive brain and if simply placed on an item cannot figure out that they are too high. So just let them do what comes naturally so they understand how they got there. If they do fall they have a quick response. They will ball up to protect themselves and injury is seldom seen. For these reasons an enclosure that takes into account height as well as length and width is important. A semi arboreal vivarium would make a great choice for them. Ventilation is a must as they come from dry areas and do not fare well with excessive moisture. If using a vivarium you will need to add a small circulation fan.
Landscaping The Enclosure:
As with all exotic creatures people will have their own ideas when it comes to setting up their enclosure. Many options will work. Although I prefer a more natural setting that allows the animal to feel more at home and display its natural behavior. For substrate large wood chippings, children’s play area bark chippings work great and give a much more natural look and feel.
Tenrecs are naturally clean animals and will choose one area to go potty in. Makes cleaning the substrate an easy affair. Avoid anything suck as fleece as their claws can easily get caught and cause damage and distress to the animal. For somewhere to sleep a variety of things can be placed in the enclosure but things like igloos and homes preferred by hedgehogs are generally ignored by tenrecs. Instead a variety of wood and bark are the preferred medium for sleeping in. The large bark pieces sold in many reptile stores make perfect homes which will be used by the tenrecs, or piece of wood they can squeeze under. I have used many types of wood and found all wood found in pet stores works really well. Woods in the enclosure should be positioned to allow plenty of exploring both around and over them. Any wood should be secured so that it doesn’t fall when the tenrecs try to climb. If using light pieces of wood attach with aquarium safe sealer and allow 48 hours to cure before adding your animal. This makes for a natural and secure playground for your tenrecs to explore.
Like hedgehogs tenrecs travel large distances in an evening so the ability to carry this out must be created in the vivarium. They can and do use an exercise wheel quite well. If using a wheel it should be the same size as one used for a hedgehog. If enough thought and planning goes into their enclosure they can fully exercise wiht out the addition of a wheel. They will use each and every item in their enclosure. If you have a fussy animal that won’t use a wheel then make sure that other items are placed to allow the animal to exercise its need to roam.
As information is poor on what plants they may eat in the wild or more so which are harmful to them, it is best to go with artificial and silk aquarium plants if required. I have found all plastic and silk plants to be safe. Again I anchor these down with the use of aquarium safe sealant and allow 48 hours to cure before allowing the animal back into o the enclosure.
FOOD AND WATER:
As with most animals water should be available at all times. A simple bowl will suffice. But they will use a bottle also. A good alternative is the use of an exo terra medium or large waterfall. They keep the water from going stale and attracting bacteria. They also seem to attract the attention of the tenrecs more so than just a bowl or bottle. They also look more natural and will fit in well with the other décor in the setup. For food I offer a staple of Royal Canine Baby Cat, which they take in small amounts. As well as an array of small insects. (Roaches, Meal Worms, Super Worms Etc.)
A high quality cat , dog, or ferret food can be used but make sure the protein in high and low in fat content with quality ingredients being the first ingredient.
Don’t expect your tenrec to eat large amounts. They only eat between a tea spoon and a table spoon of food a day. I also add fresh fruit to their diet. (Banana and Mango) Avoid citrus fruit as they are too rich for them and avoid raisins as it is unknown if these have the same affect in tenrecs as they do in other animals.
One of the main confusion points in keeping and breeding tenrecs is the debate on the correct temperatures to keep them at. In truth there is no set temperature that is recommended.
My preferred method is to allow them to generally follow ambient household temperatures. To give you an idea of what they would experience during the year in nature. If not wishing to breed a single year round temp can be set. Little is known about the effect of not having a cooling period. Other than they will show no interest in breeding.
The most important point of breeding is choosing unrelated animals from good stock. Also the cooling period, without this breeding will not take place. Breeding usually takes place in the early part of the warm season and is generally limited to one litter per year. The first signs of breeding will usually be the smell of the male, who sacreats milk from his tear ducts in his eyes; this is a very potent odor. The male will chase the female most of the evening and will continuously squeak. The gestation period is between 47 to 65 days with a litter count of between 3 and 5 on average. Weaning takes place by day 35. The initial growth is on par with APH, and the same precautions should be put in place.
The male should be removed to another enclosure when pregnancy is noticed. If colony breeding the removing the pregnant female is best.
Unlike APH and other hedgehog species the lesser tenrec is found both in solitary and in colonies in nature. Can be safely kept the same way in captivity. With a rule of only one male to each group. If keeping in this way please ensure the enclosure is enlarged to accommodate each and every additional female. They are also quite happy living alone.