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Biol Lett. 2013 Jul 24;9(5):20130486. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0486. Print 2013 Oct 23.

A new hero emerges: another exceptional mammalian spine and its potential adaptive significance.

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Science and Education, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL, USA.


The hero shrew's (Scutisorex somereni) massive interlocking lumbar vertebrae represent the most extreme modification of the vertebral column known in mammals. No intermediate form of this remarkable morphology is known, nor is there any convincing theory to explain its functional significance. We document a new species in the heretofore monotypic genus Scutisorex; the new species possesses cranial and vertebral features representing intermediate character states between S. somereni and other shrews. Phylogenetic analyses of DNA sequences support a sister relationship between the new species and S. somereni. While the function of the unusual spine in Scutisorex is unknown, it gives these small animals incredible vertebral strength. Based on field observations, we hypothesize that the unique vertebral column is an adaptation allowing these shrews to lever heavy or compressive objects to access concentrated food resources inaccessible to other animals.


Scutisorex; functional significance; hero shrew; new species; vertebral column

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