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Image of the Week: Elephant shrew

22 Nov, 2013

V0020902 An elephant shrew with a long proboscis. Etching by P. MazelIt is clearly not an elephant, but it turns out not to be a shrew either. This happy chap presumably got its name because somebody thought it amusing that a small (a few centimetres long at most), rodent-like creature shared its characteristic long nose with a very much larger animal. But what type of creature is it?

Scientifically classifying the elephant shrew has been difficult: Wikipedia has a long list of the species it has been grouped with over the years, including shrews and hedgehogs, hoofed animals, and hares and rabbits (admittedly, the elephant shrew’s relatively long legs do mean that it hops about like a bunny). But it turns out that that nose is indeed rather like an elephant’s trunk and can be moved around to help the animal feed. In fact, elephant shrews are today considered to be much more closely related to elephants (and some other mammals including aardvarks and sea cows) than those other species.

Peter Mazell was an Irish artist working in London in the late 18th century. Working from paintings by other artists, he made engravings of landscapes and flowers to illustrate natural history books, and did several exotic animals too, many of which can be seen on Wellcome Images. As well as this elephant shrew, he engraved a camel, a rhinoceros, a baboon, a flying squirrel and a number of African birds. His is not the only engraving of an elephant shrew on Wellcome Images, however: there’s also this specimen, with a shorter snout but no less charm….

V0020893 An elephant shrew with a small proboscis. Etching.

Image credits: Wellcome Library, London

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. All our images are available in digital form and many are free to use non-commercially under the terms of a Creative Commons licence.

One Comment leave one →
  1. elizabethconnolly permalink
    22 Nov, 2013 10:10 pm

    Reblogged this on Line Dot Splodge and commented:
    Elephant Shrew!!

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