Quill Valley Lesser Madagascar Tenrec Care Guide
Brief intro into lesser Madagascar tenrecs:
Lesser Madagascar tenrecs are small arboreal mammals found in the arid southern regions of Madagascar, where they reside in dry forests, coastal regions, scrub & semi- desert areas. When they seek shelter they make dens in tree cavities. There’s about 35 different species of tenrecs in the world known. Some tenrecs like the lesser Madagascar & greater Madagascar tenrecs look like hedgehogs, & because of this many refer to them as lesser & greater hedgehog tenrecs. But tenrecs aren’t closely related to hedgehogs at all, they’re related to similar animals like moles & shrews, & very distantly related to each other. Tenrecs are more closely related to elephants than to hedgehogs actually, tenrecs are related to elephants distantly.
Not all species of tenrecs are in the pet trade, only about 5 species are; the lesser Madagascar tenrec, common/tailless tenrec, greater Madagascar tenrec, lowland streaked tenrec, & highland streaked tenrec. But in the US only 3 out of those 5 species are available, & only recently in the last 1-2 years have common & greater tenrecs been imported into the US & become available for pet ownership. For many years only lesser tenrecs were available in the US for pet ownership, a couple of breeders had common & greater tenrecs but didn’t sell them to the public & kept all offspring. But thanks to current breeders, more were able to be imported from Europe in 2019, 2020, & 2021 & multiple breeders are now breeding & selling greater tenrec babies to pet owners. No breeders have successfully bred & sold any common tenrecs though yet.
TEMPERATURE & TORPOR:
Tenrecs are much less temperature sensitive compared to most small animals, like for instance hedgehogs who are very temperature sensitive. They do go through a type of hibernation once a year called torpor, it is similar to brumation in reptiles. Torpor lasts about 6 months & starts in the fall & ends in the spring, so approximately October to April (the actual months can vary somewhat depending on the outside temperature during the specific year). During torpor they have decreased activity & tend to sleep & not wakeup for sometimes weeks to months straight. They’ll fast during torpor for usually weeks at a time, meaning they don’t eat or drink, though some may come out occasionally & eat & drink minimally, but most stay asleep. Males tend to go through a lighter torpor than females, some males will wake up once a week & be active, eat, & drink. Whereas most females won’t wake up for a month straight or more at a time. Due to them sleeping so much during torpor, if they do come out to eat you must make sure they don’t fall asleep with food in their mouths because that can cause tooth issue & other health issues. During torpor you can still handle them, you just don’t want to keep them awake because that will use up energy they need to get through torpor, so just let them sleep if they want to sleep. You’ll notice that when you take them out during torpor & they start to warm up they’ll start to wake up & become a bit active. You do want to make sure you’re taking them out at least once a week to weigh them & track their weight to make sure they aren’t losing too much weight, they will lose some weight during torpor because they’re burning calories & fat for energy to get through torpor, similar to how bears get through hibernation. During torpor their bellies tend to get & stay cold, this is okay & isn’t bad, it’s just a part of how their bodies deal with going through torpor & colder temperatures. Baby tenrecs should try to be discouraged/prevented from going into full torpor their first torpor, this is because most babies aren’t big enough/ don’t weigh enough to successfully go through a full torpor & tend to drop too much weight during torpor if allowed to fully go through torpor their first year. So keeping babies at around 75-80F/ degrees during the fall to spring is best to try to discourage their bodies from going into a full torpor. For adults during torpor the air temperature can actually get down to 65-67F/ 18-19C & they will be okay, when they’re out of torpor they need to be kept at at least 70-72F/21/22C. When they’re out of torpor they may occasionally have a cold belly, this isn’t to be alarming, it just means they’re a little chilly, but it doesn’t hurt them to have a cold belly. So long as they’re in above 70-72F/21-22C when out of torpor they should be fine, babies I would keep a bit warmer like around 74-75F/ 23-24C at least.
Lesser Madagascar tenrecs are semi arboreal animals, this means they’re climbers. The definition of semi arboreal is: often inhabiting & frequenting trees but not completely arboreal. Arboreal relating to animals means, living in trees. Lesser tenrecs have long curled nails & their feet are made for gripping So lesser tenrecs can climb but they’re not always amazing climbers, they tend to do best in cages with lots of climbing branches but not a super tall cage.
Tenrecs for the most part are pretty hardy healthy animals & don’t seem to experience many ailments like other small pets do. One health condition that tenrecs are prone to is Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). MBD are disorders of bone strength usually caused by abnormalities of minerals (such as calcium or phosphorus), vitamin D, bone mass or bone structure. With tenrecs the MBD is caused by a lack of calcium/calcium deficiency. The way to prevent this is to make sure at least once a week you’re adding reptile calcium powder with D3, but you want it to be phosphorus free because they’re don’t usually have an issue with needing phosphorus. If your tenrec doesn’t get much natural sunlight often, then you can also provide your tenrec with a tube UVB bulb to help with their calcium absorption. The D3 in the calcium powder needs UVB to be activated. We also suggest using Smart Water, which is a kind of bottled water, because it has added calcium in it so it’s just a good easy extra step to get calcium in them. Smart Water tastes like normal water, so it’s pretty easy to get them to drink it. Smart Water is especially great to give expectant & nursing mothers because they’re going to be more depleted of calcium since a lot of theirs is going to their babies. Smart Water also has added calcium in it, so it helps to make sure they’re always hydrated as well. Tenrecs aren’t prone to cancers, while they can get cancer it is rare for them to. MBD is the most common health condition they can get, so just make sure you’re giving them added calcium & that’ll help decrease their chances of having it. If you notice them having issues walking/moving around, their paws looking strange, etc please take them to the vet because those are signs of MBD. Make sure you’re also using an exotic vet for your tenrec, most vets including exotic vets don’t know much about tenrecs or even met one before, but exotic veterinarians are trained to deal with exotic species & will know more & be more helpful than a dog & cat vet would be. Dog & cat vets also legally aren’t allowed to treat exotics since they weren’t trained & licensed to, but that doesn’t stop all dog & cat vets from sometimes treating exotics, so just keep these things in mind.
BREEDING & MATURITY:
Lesser tenrec females reach sexual maturity at 2 years old/ after their first successful full torpor (this is usually during their second torpor), males reach sexual maturity at 1 year old. Tenrecs only breed once a year during the spring. Breeding season starts once they come out of torpor, which is usually February-March, & it usually ends in May. A female lesser tenrecs gestation period is about 61-68 days. Tenrecs behavior, especially males, can become more aggressive during breeding season sometimes, but this usually happens if there’s a tenrec of the opposite sex they can smell nearby. During breeding season, even females may try to mount another female as an assertion of dominance. Tenrecs have a mating call that they’ll make when around another tenrec during breeding season, the mating call is very loud & sounds like a screeching screaming noise that is repetitive. Males tenrecs do smell, they secrete a pungent smell that is meant to attract other females to mate with, & so the smell will intensify during the breeding season. The males usually smell like corn chips, skunk, &/or marijuana. Females generally have no smell. Male tenrecs can also secrete a milky white liquid substance from around their eyes when they’re excited about something, this can happen when around another tenrec or even when giving them something new & they like it. Some female tenrecs can also secrete the milky substance from around their eyes as well, but most don’t. Adult female lesser tenrecs weigh between 120-180 grams, when pregnant females can weigh up to 250-300+ grams. Adult male lesser tenrecs weigh between 140-200 grams. Tenrecs will lose weight during torpor so their weigh does fluctuate some.
SEXING A LESSER TENREC:
Lesser tenrecs are one of few mammals that you cannot sex from looking at external reproductive organs like you can with most animals. Their reproductive organs are all internal, & only a males penis will come out during breeding with a female. Female lesser tenrecs have a cloaca, which is a single reproductive, intestinal, & urinary opening. Unlike most mammals which have separate openings for each bodily function, tenrecs just have the one opening. To accurately 100% sex a lesser tenrec you need to DNA test their saliva. Sometimes you can tell by facial features when they’re 6 months or older what their sex is, but this isn’t a totally accurate way to always tell their sex. Usually males have a broad shaped face with puffy rings around their eyes (this is where the milky white substance is usually secreted from), females usually have narrow shaped faces & has no puffiness around their eyes. Sometimes males can resemble females & females can resemble males with their facial features, this is why trying to sex them by looking at them isn’t always accurate. Also, females can secrete the same milky white substance from around their eyes as well, most just don’t.
COHOUSING / CAGE MATES:
Lesser tenrecs are solitary animals, but often females can be housed together & a male with females if the cage is large enough & there’s enough supplies in the cage for each tenrec. Males should never be kept together however, males will fight because they’re territorial. Some tenrecs may not want a cage mate, so if you planned to cohouse your tenrecs please always be prepared & have a backup cage & supplies on hand in case they need to be separated. Tenrecs only breed once a year in the spring, this is why it’s okay to house males & females together, because the female cannot get pregnant year round. However, unless you plan to breed your tenrecs, you’ll need to separate the male & female during breeding season to avoid the female getting pregnant. If housing 2 tenrecs together the cage size at minimum should be 48 inches x 24 inches x 24 inches, 3 tenrecs can be housed in a 48in x 24in x 24in cage as well, over 3 tenrecs you’ll need to go up in cage size.
Lesser tenrecs are generally friendly, inquisitive animals who enjoy handling & aren’t very defensive. A tenrecs first defense if scared, threatened, & stressed is to bite & put their quills up, unlike hedgehogs whose first defense is their quills & to ball up but not biting. Tenrecs are anti-social animals, but they do well around other tenrecs mostly (please see the section about cohousing/cage mates for more info on this). Tenrecs aren’t prone to being huffy & overly bitey, but without proper socialization & handling from a young age they definitely can be. Tenrecs can ball up, hiss, huff, click, & make other noises when upset, but it’s very uncommon for adult tenrecs to ball up & click. Most only hiss when startled & raise their quills, but they typically lower their quills quickly once they realize who/what it is that startled them & stop hissing.
HANDLING & BONDING:
Lesser tenrecs tend to be more friendly, inquisitive, & less defensive than some other exotic pets. They generally enjoy handling & you should handle your tenrec at least a few times a week but every day is best, to make sure they stay well socialized. It’s always best to handle them confidently & use multiple handling methods to socialize them, like moving them from hand to hand, holding them in your lap, etc. They are climbers & so they will usually try to climb up your shirt & arms, so long as they don’t fall it is okay to let them do this, but always keep a hand under them in case they do fall. Some like to climb up & lay behind your neck & fall asleep, they can be great animals to “wear around” since they like to do things like this, some also climb up to your chest & do the same thing. Lesser tenrecs are generally pretty easy to bond with & keep socialized. Many tenrecs will get onto a schedule if you’re doing a similar routine daily with them & will come out the same time nightly to greet you sometimes & some even do that in the mornings too. When looking for a tenrec, if you want one with a good temperament that is able to be handled easily & is friendly, then you need to make sure you get one who was handled a lot & socialized well as a baby because that makes a big difference with their long term temperament. We suggest getting a baby from a reputable breeder that tracks lineage to make sure inbreeding isn’t occurring with the lines, & because a reputable breeder is going to properly socialize their babies to ensure they’re friendly & calm. Rescues & ones from a questionable background may not have been properly socialized & so you’re more likely to get one that does ball up a lot, is huffy, always has their quills raised, hisses a lot, & bites a lot.
Tenrecs being nocturnal means they will generally only be awake during the night, if you want to interact with your tenrec while they’re awake then it’s best to wait till 8pm or later & then take them out. During the day tenrecs will be more calm & cuddly because they want to sleep, you can take them out of their cage during the day but just make sure you aren’t forcing them to stay awake because that can mess with their day/night cycle. If you take them out during the day just let them sleep if they want to sleep, it’s usually best to take them out with a snuggle sack/pouch or a blanket so they can snuggle up & sleep. Tenrecs aren’t really animals that “play” much, so play pens & toys kind of go to waste on them, but many do love to free roam outside in the grass during the spring to summer when it’s warm out, you just need to make sure you’re watching them so they don’t run off or get picked up by a bird of prey like a hawk or eagle. Tenrecs may seem slow, but they can run decently fast if they want to & owners have lost their tenrecs outside because they turned their backs on them for just a minute & they ran off. So they always need to be watched intently when outside. The temperature needs to be at least 72 degrees Fahrenheit/ 22 degrees Celsius outside to take them outside.
Insects- Lesser tenrecs should be offered insects at least a few times a week, but can be fed them daily. Tenrecs should be fed 8-10 large superworms or 10-15 large mealworms/ the equivalent of other smaller insects. Tenrecs need to be fed live insects regularly & not freeze dried or canned, those can be given as occasional treats but not as their staple diet of insects. Tenrecs is a large variety of insects, they can have any feeder insect there is really. They should be offered a wide variety of different insects from a young age to try & keep their diet well balanced & varied like it would be in the wild. They should only be fed feeder insects, which are insects bred specifically to be fed, they shouldn’t be fed/given insects from the yard/outside or bait insects as they could have parasites or pesticides in them & that would be very harmful to them. Commonly fed insects are- superworms, mealworms, dubia roaches, hornworms, crickets, black soldier fly larvae/ Phoenix worms (they’re the same thing), waxworms, silkworms, & butterworms. Tenrecs can ingest large insects that are pretty big compared to their size body. Tenrecs are pretty intense eaters, so if you wanna hand feed make sure you use tweezers to give them the insect because they tend to mistake fingers & hands as their food also & will probably bite you, & tenrec bites can be nasty if they think you’re food because they won’t want to let go. We suggest just putting the insects into a dish & put it into their cage. You can get live insects from feeder insect breeders that sell online or from a pet store, online feeder insect breeders usually sell their insects in larger quantities so it is usually best to go to a pet store first to get smaller quantities of multiple insects for them to try them first to see if they like them before you start buying the insects in large amounts. Most pet stores sell cups of insects starting at 10-15 count & go up to 100-150 count. But pets stores do price gouge/overprice their insects pretty badly, so for the long term I wouldn’t suggest buying from pet stores if you have access to order from a good online feeder insect breeder because they’re much more cost effective to buy from than pet stores long term.
Make sure if you feed insects daily that they’re not high fat insects (like wax worms, butter worms, etc), tenrecs can become obese if fed lots of high fat insects or too many insects during each feeding. If your tenrec becomes overweight don’t worry, through torpor they should lose the extra weigh they put on. Just make sure that they aren’t having to lose a bunch of extra weigh during each torpor, aka that if they become overweight it is a single occurrence & not a repetitive issue as that will severely impact their health & could cause things like fatty liver disease to gain & lose a lot of weight repeatedly.
Proteins- Tenrecs do also need meat protein in their diet, a good way to provide meat protein is to feed them cooked unseasoned meats weekly at least & to give them thawed frozen pinkie mice. You can feed raw meats but only if the meats are made to be fed raw, meats from a grocery store aren’t made to be fed raw & usually contain bacteria’s like salmonella, etc & need to be cooked in order to kill the bacteria in them to make them safe for consuming. Some pet stores & online companies sell raw meat for pets to specifically feed them a raw meat diet. We suggest you get frozen pinkie mice from feeder rodent breeders because their stock should be healthy, some pet stores do sell frozen pinkies but their stock comes from the same mills & backyard breeders they get their pet rodents from & those animals are usually sick & have diseases so you don’t want to feed potentially sick animals to your tenrec & it make them sick. If your tenrec is really picky you can feed them freeze dried raw meat kibble toppers crumbled into their kibble, most like that.
Instinct rawboost freeze dried raw meat kibble toppers- https://www.petco.com/shop/en/petcostore/product/natures-variety-instinct-raw-boost-chicken-dog-food-mixers
We suggest using a cage that is at least 36 inches long by 18 inches wide by 18 inches tall. You can use cages that are larger, tenrecs do best in larger cages, that is just the minimum we suggest. If you use a cage that is very tall, you do need to have shelves/ledges to stop them from falling the whole height of the cage because that could cause severe injury if they fall from over 2-3 feet high up. So you want shelves & ledges in the cage break the fall some if they do climb up to the top of the cage & fall.
Best types of cages for lesser tenrecs are wire cages with ½ inch or less bar spacing because they can escape through anything larger than ½ an inch, & a solid floor; or a terrarium or vivarium that has completely vented top & preferably ventilation near the bottom of the cage as well.
- Midwest Critter Nation single unit cage (36”x24”x39”)
- Zen Habitat wood panel (4’x2’x2’) enclosure
- Repti Zoo 50 gallon terrarium (36”x18”x18”)
- Exo Terra large/tall terrarium (36”x18”x18”)
- Thrive front double door front opening terrarium 40 gallon (36”x18”x18”)
- Repti Zoo 67 gallon terrarium 2 in 1 side meshes & side glasses double hinge door with screen ventilation (36”x18”x24”)
There’s a multitude of bedding options you can use for tenrecs, it’s best to use some kind of loose bedding/substrate so they can dig, burrow, build nests, & make tunnels which are natural behaviors they exhibit. Cedar & non kiln dried wood shavings are toxic to them. Popular bedding options are small pet paper bedding, aspen wood shavings, coco peat/loose coconut fiber, & reptile wood chips/mulch. Please keep in mind that all substrate should be frozen for a minimum for 24 hours & let thaw before use to kill off any possible mites in it, or you can apply kitten Revolution once a month topically to the tenrec (Revolution is an anti parasitic medicine safe for small animals). We recommend using paper bedding, it is soft, absorbent, easy for them to build tunnels with, & it’s not too expensive. We don’t recommend the use of fleece for their bedding, tenrecs aren’t domesticated animals & are still partially wild & still have the need to exhibit natural digging, burrowing, nest building behaviors & fleece won’t allow them to do these behaviors & that can be detrimental to their psychological health. Fleece can be used to cover secondary shelves in cages & cover wire ramps.
- Small Pet Select natural paper bedding
- Small Pet Select aspen wood shavings
- Eco Earth coco peat/coconut fiber bedding
- ReptiChip compressed coconut chip substrate for reptiles (brick bedding)
- Fluker labs repti bark
Due to tenrecs being prey animals, they don’t like open space & prefer cluttered space so they feel more safe & secure. So you want the cage floor to be filled ¾ the way with hides, logs, branches, tunnels, etc to provide lots of places for them to hide if they want to & so they feel covered in their cage & not exposed. Tenrecs must have at least one hiding place/house in their cage. Depending on the size of the cage you may need to add multiple hides. You can use wood hides, plastic hides, hay hides, snuggle sacks & other fleece bags, fleece made hides, etc. (NOTE: All items that are sewn must have hidden seams so the tenrecs cannot get any loose strings/threads wrapped around their feet, toes, head, nose, mouth, teeth, etc. which will easily cut off circulation and can turn into an emergency needing a vet a.s.a.p. Fabric hides should only have anti pill fleece on the inside, cotton or flannel can be used on the outside or fleece both inside & out. Felt isn’t safe to use for small animals). have
- Lixit igloo
- Zilla stump den (Size medium)
- Galapagos mossy dome reptile & amphibian terrarium accessory, fresh green
- Galapagos Sapa corner hideout reptile terrarium accessory, fresh green, 10”
- Super Pet plastic tree trunk (Size medium)
- Kaytee woodland getaway hideout (Size medium)
- Ware natural willow & grass hut (Size medium)
PVC pipes make great tunnels, they’re easy to find, cheap, & easy to clean. Make sure you get 3” PVC pipes, bigger is fine but anything smaller & most tenrecs won’t fit in them & could get stuck. Most tenrecs like the elbow & T-shape PVC pipes, they usually like when you get connector ones & make longer tunnels too. Cork & wood tunnels are great, so are pet plastic bendy tunnels & fleece tunnels can be used as well.
- Elbow 3” PVC pipe
- Tee shape 3” PVC pipe
- Full cork round
- Wood tunnel
- Bendy tunnel
- Fleece tunnel
You want to make sure that the tenrec has lots of climbing accessories so that they can get the exercise they need because lesser tenrecs are semi-arboreal animals. Semi-arboreal means that they’re somewhat climbers. Items like wood logs & branches (both real wood & fake are okay) are needed throughout the cage. Make sure the wood you use is untreated & is pet safe, it’s best to stick to pet store bought wood for reptiles & birds/ wood labeled for reptiles & birds because that is pet safe. It’s quite a process to clean & sterilize wood from outside, it can be done but you have to boil, scrub, & bake it. Also not all wood is safe for them, please research small pet safe woods before using any outdoor wood. If you use fake branches make sure they’re thick enough to hold a tenrecs weight, many are sold to use for lighter weight reptiles.
Recommended branches & logs:
- Large grapevine log
- Spider wood
- Fluval fake African shade leaf ornament
- Fluker’s small animal bend a branch fake branch
Cage wall & floor accessories:
Optional but recommended, we suggest using fake vines & fake plants to add clutter to the cage walls & floor & help make the tenrec feel more secure in their cage.
Recommended cage wall accessories:
- Fluker’s pothos repta vines
- Fluker’s red coleus repta vines
- Fake large grape leaf vines
- Fake Boston fern bush vines (2 pack)
- Fake green bushy vine
Recommended cage floor accessories:
- Exo Terra rainforest ground plant
- Fake orchid grass
- Araceae fake plant
- Fake dandelion plant
- Fake sago palm plant
Food/water bowl & insect dish-
Tenrecs don’t drink out of water bottles & need to always have access to fresh water in their cage. If you have a multi-level cage we recommend putting food & water on each level in case they don’t want to go all the way up or down the cage daily to get to food & water, that way they’ll never be far from it. For food & water bowls we suggest using ceramic or porcelain bowls that can hold at least a few ounces of water/ is at least approximately 4”Lx4”Wx2-3”H (for water bowl we suggest they be no more than 2.5”H), we suggest ceramic or porcelain because it’s less likely for them to tip them over. Tenrecs tend to put their paws on the edge of the bowl while eating & drinking & will tip over light weight bowls like plastic bowls.
For an insect dish you want to use a smooth sided dish with at least 3”H sides to the insect cant climb out. Ceramic or porcelain dishes are preferred so the tenrecs don’t tip over the dish while eating, when eating insects most try to climb inside the bowl. The bowl should be at least 4”Lx4”W. If feeding insects like roaches & some worms it’s best to use a curved lip dish because they can climb out of most other dishes even if taller.
Recommended food & water bowls:
- 3oz porcelain round dip bowl
- 4oz porcelain square dip bowl
- Oxbow no tip ceramic small pet bowl
- Living World ergonomic small pet ceramic dish
Recommended insect dishes:
- All Living Things small ceramic bowl
- 4.7oz porcelain ramekin
- Living World ergonomic small pet dish
- Anti escape insect dish
Bathing & nails:
Tenrecs don’t get water baths with soap, they should instead be given sand & allowed to self bath. Tenrecs use the sand to exfoliate their skin to keep it healthy. They bathe by grabbing sand with their front paws, wetting it with their saliva, & then scrubbing it onto their face, head, back, etc. You want to use a container to put the sand in so they can climb into it to sand bathe & sand won’t go everywhere in the cage. The container should be no less than 8”Lx4”Wx4”H (large enough for them to easily move in). Reptile sand baths containers, ceramic or porcelain bowls, plastic bowls, etc are all good to use for their sand bath container. You want to give them clean sand safe for animals, reptile sand (never calcium/calc sand, it can be fatal if they ingest any of it because it clumps when wet & will cause an impaction inside of them), non dyed children’s play sand (you must bake it to sterilize it), or hamster/chinchilla sand (no chinchilla dust, it is too fine & could harm their lungs, eyes, & ears).
As for their nails, tenrec nails are long & need to be in order for them to be able to grip & climb. They don’t usually need their nails trimmed unless they’re not able to wear their nails down on wood while climbing, this is how they would wear their nails down in the wild. Only if you notice their nails starting to flop over when they walk or they’re getting close to curling into their feet, then do they need their nails trimmed a little. Don’t cut their nails short because then they’ll be unable to climb properly & may injure themselves if they tried to. If you need to trim their nails, use regular human nail clippers, baby nail clippers, or cuticle clippers.
Recommended sand bath containers:
- Exo Terra XL dish
- Serving bowl
- Fluker’s natural dune reptile sand
- Baha children’s play sand
Recommended nail clippers:
- Regular human nail clippers
- Baby nail clippers
- Cuticle clippers
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