Rare Mammal That's Still Alive Today Once Walked With Dinosaurs

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Solenodons are only found on the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola. Wiki Commons

One of the weirdest, rarest and, it turns out, oldest mammals on the planet has had its genome sequenced, and the research has revealed some truly remarkable finds, according to a recent press release.

Solenodons are standouts in the mammalian world. For one, they're venomous — with venomous saliva on their teeth that can stop a mouse's heart within minutes, which is almost unheard of among mammals. They also have flexible snouts and unusual rear-positioned teats. They are only found on two Caribbean islands, Cuba and Hispaniola, and are rarely seen due to their subterranean lifestyle during daylight hours.

It's long been suspected that these peculiar creatures' lineage goes back a long way, but just how far back was unclear. Now, however, we have a number: 73.6 million years.

That's before the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs. Solenodons survived dinosaurs. They even survived what the dinosaurs could not.

"We have confirmed the early speciation date for Solenodons, weighing on the ongoing debate on whether the solenodons have indeed survived the demise of dinosaurs after the asteroid impact in the Caribbean," said Dr. Taras K. Oleksyk from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez.

Unfortunately, despite the remarkable tenacity of this bizarre mammal throughout history, its time might soon come to an end. The world has closed in on its isolated island lifestyle, mostly due to human impacts from deforestation, introduced invasive species, and climate change. The Cuban solenodon was thought to have been extinct until a live specimen was found in 2003, and a 2008 expedition in the Dominican Republic turned up only one specimen of the Hispaniolan variety.

"It may now be imperative to study conservation genomics of solenodons, whose extinction would extirpate an entire evolutionary lineage whose antiquity goes back to the age of dinosaurs," the team write in their paper, which was published in the journal GigaScience.