Alexis Mychajliw

investigating the past, present, and future of island mammals. and ones with wiggly noses, too.

“Insectivora”: the wiggly-nosed wastebasket, or: amazing convegent evolution in mammals



“Insectivora” Plate from 1880. Includes Pen-Tail Shrew, Tenrec, Otter Shrew, Flying Lemur, Hedgehog, Common Mole, Common Shrew, Star-Nosed Mole, Elephant Shrew, and Squirrel Shrew. See below for actual phylogenetic placement.

Insectivora: once a taxonomic wastebasket for all weird wiggly-nosed insect-loving small mammals for more than 100 years, now split into numerous Orders that epitomize the fascinating legacy of convergent evolution in mammals.

The  nearly mirror-like radiations of “Insectivorans” inspired me to study evolutionary biology, and I still use them when teaching introductory biology. How crazy is it that a hedgehog tenrec is more closely related to an elephant than to an actual hedgehog? Answer: very crazy.

After decades of conflicting data, a combination of molecular and morphological data now support several major Orders that were hidden in this wastebasket.

In addition to being a wonderful example of convergence, this story also highlights the dynamic nature of systematics and the importance of morphological AND molecular sides to the story.


Mr. Moonrat says “This page is under construction!”