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Studying mammals: The insect hunters

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From pygmy shrews to armadillos, a wide range of mammals survive on a diet made up largely of insects. Many of these have fascinating adaptations suited to catching or rooting out their prey. In this free course, Studying mammals: The insect hunters, you will learn about these adaptations, along with survival strategies for when food is scarce. This is the second course in the Studying mammals series.

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • describe the lifestyle of a variety of insect eaters, from four orders
  • give examples of adaptations linked to feeding in insect eaters
  • explain the limited extent to which insectivores can be regarded as ‘primitive’
  • characterise typical adult mammalian dentition and understand dental formulae
  • recognise teleology and write down accounts of evolution that do not assume purpose or direction.

By: The Open University

  • Duration 10 hours
  • Updated Wednesday 16th March 2016
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under Natural History
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Studying mammals: The insect hunters


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Sixty-five million years ago, animal and plant life were very different from nowadays, but there were rat-sized placental mammals living successfully on the ground. They were insect eaters, i.e. insectivores, feeding on the vast numbers of insects and other invertebrates living in soil, leaf litter and low-lying vegetation. Insectivore means 'insect eater', and in this course we will explore the world of insect-eating mammals, classified together on the basis of a reasonably close evolutionary relationship.

This is the second in a series of units about studying mammals. To get the most from these units, you will need access to a copy of The Life of Mammals (2002) by David Attenborough, BBC Books (ISBN 0563534230), and The Life of Mammals (2002) on DVD, which contains the associated series of ten BBC TV programmes. OpenLearn course S182_8 Studying mammals: life in the trees contains samples from the DVD set. You should begin each course by watching the relevant TV programme on the DVD and reading the corresponding chapter in The Life of Mammals. You will be asked to rewatch specific sequences from the programme as you work through the course.

This OpenLearn course provides a sample of level 1 study in Environment & Development [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

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