Almost all Mesozoic mammals were insectivorous. Insects are by far the largest group of organisms, both in terms of number of species and in biomass. They are marvelously diverse in habit and morphology. They provide a rich resource for anything that eats them, and their diversity alone suggests that their predators might exhibit similar variety. And so it is. Many mammals, including members of almost all orders, sometimes feed on insects. Members of one order, the Insectivora, feed almost entirely on invertebrates, especially insects. The Insectivora includes such groups as shrews, moles, hedgehogs, and tenrecs; these groups include around 375 species arranged in six living families. Tree shrews and elephant shrews have also sometimes been placed in this order; recent work, however, has shown the distinctiveness of these groups and they are now classified separately (orders Scandentia and Macroscelidea, respectively).
What traits characterize members of the Insectivora? Most insectivores are small; shrews, for example, are among the smallest mammals. Most rely more on their senses of hearing, smell, and touch than on vision. Some shrews can echolocate. The part of the brain that houses the sense of smell is especially well developed. The ear region of insectivores lacks an ossified bulla. The tympanic membrane is attached to a bony tympanic ring, and the middle ear may be partially enclosed by processes from adjacent bones. The jugal is reduced or may be absent, and the zygomatic arch is sometimes incomplete. The cheek teeth of many are dilambdodont, and even those with more derived molariform teeth tend to have cusps that can easily be identified according to the tribosphenic pattern. The incisors of some Insectivora are enlarged (but they are reduced in others), and the canines also vary considerably in morphology. The eyes are usually very small, the feet are plantigrade and have five digits, and neither the hallux or pollex is opposable.
Many of the traits used to define Insectivora are probably primitive for mammals. Whether the order is a natural (monophyletic) group is still open to question.
Members of the order are found through much of the world. They are missing from Australia and all but the northernmost part of South America. Most species eat invertebrates.
families of insectivora Erinaceidae Talpidae Solenodontidae Tenrecidae Chrysochloridae Soricidae
<<<<<<<>>>>>>>ARTIODACTYLA CARNIVORA CETACEA CHIROPTERA DASYUROMORPHIA DERMOPTERA DIDELPHIMORPHI DIPROTODONTIA HYRACOIDEA INSECTIVORA LAGOMORPHA MACROSCELIDEA MICROBIOTHERIA MONOTREMATA NOTORYCTEMORPHIA PAUCITUBERCULATA PERAMELEMORPHIA PERISSODACTYLA PHOLIDOTA PRIMATES PROBOSCIDEA RODENTIA SCANDENTIA SIRENIA TUBULIDENTATA XENARTHRA