Hedgehogs are freaking adorable. I’m sure most people have seen videos on the internet of hedgehogs getting baths, or sleeping with cute miniature stuffed animals. Unfortunately, the hedgehogs’ closest relatives do not share this trait. They are definitely not as sweet looking as the friendly hedgehogs.
Gymnures, moonrats and hedgehogs all belong to the family Erinaceidae. There are eight species of gymnure (including the moonrats, which have way better names than gymnures). They are found in Southeast Asia, in Vietnam, China, Indonesia, and Malaysia. They live in jungles, where there are lots of tasty insects for them to gobble up, and plenty of good spots for burrowing.
Gymnures range in length from 10 to 45 cm, depending on the species. They basically look like hedgehogs, minus the spines and with longer tails. This, somehow, makes gymnures far less appealing than hedgehogs. Moonrats are particularly ugly. This is probably thanks to their lovely, pig-like nose, and scruffy-looking fur. Most species have dark brown fur, though the greater moonrat is usually white with some black markings.
Like their hedgehog cousins, gymnures snack on a range of invertebrates, including worms, insects, and crabs, as well as small vertebrates such as mice and frogs. They usually keep hidden until twilight or night, when they come out to forage, using their keen sense of smell to track prey.
Gymnures are known for being quite territorial, and they mark their territories with a lovely smell. People tend to describe it as smelling of rancid onions or garlic, which sounds just awful. Gymnures are solitary creatures, only coming together to breed. They usually have one or two litters a year, with two pups in each litter.
It is thought that gymnures closely resemble the earliest mammals, though shrews are more closely related to this ancestor than gymnures are. Still, it’s pretty cool that these guys are trying so hard to emulate our ancestors. Unfortunately, gymnures haven’t been studied all that much, probably because they are ugly and smell really bad. The animal world is a cruel place.