Hero Shrew Discovered: 'Bizarre' Mammal Is So Strong It Can Lift Logs [STUDY]

By iScienceTimes Staff on July 24, 2013 4:45 PM EDT

common shrew
The recently-discovered Thor's hero shrew has a spine exponentially stronger, and more mysterious, than that of the common shrew (above). (Photo: Flirck: anthonycramp)

A new species of hero shrew found in Africa is one of the strongest mammals ever discovered, with power it derives from its extremely bizarre backbone.

Although Scutisorex Thor'si is under a foot long and only weighs 1.7 ounces, the rat-like animal can lift logs and survive squishing.

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The hero shrew has mystified scientists since it was first discovered in 1910. When a new species of hero shrew, now known as the Thor's hero shrew, was discovered by scientists from Chicago's Field Museum, they began to study its strange backbone and power.

The hero shrew is the subject of a new study published in Biology Letters.

"This shrew first came to light when explorers came to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Bill Stanley, Director of Collections the Field Museum. "The explorers watched in amazement as a full-grown man stood on the back of the Hero Shrew, and the animal walked away, unharmed."

The Thor's hero shrew's spine is made up of eight interlocking vertebrae, which is so much stronger than a normal shrew's backbone that scientists aren't sure what to make of it.

"The hero shrew has the most bizarre mammalian backbone in the world," Stanley told LiveScience.

It may be that the Thor's hero shrew is an evolutionary link between the regular shrew and the previously known hero shrew, Stanley suggested.

"Often, when we see such bizarre morphology and there's nothing in between that morphological change and everything else, people hypothesize that this change happened very quickly and was very significant in a short amount of time."

While they're not sure exactly how the hero shrew developed its bizarre spine, Stanley and his team hypothesize that the purpose of evolving the strong back is to snatch worms out from underneath heavy logs.

In addition to the discovery of the Thor's hero shrew, with its unique backbone power, being exciting in general, Stanley said that the discovery is exciting because it highlights how often we're still finding new things in nature.

"People think the age of discovery is over--that we might discover new species of bacteria but when it comes to mammals and vertebrates, we've pretty much got it figured out," he said. "That is absolutely not the case. We are finding new species all the time."

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