Found recently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the shrew is only the second hero shrew known to science. The first, S. somereni, was found in the DRC in 1910, baffling scientists with a spine never before seen in any mammal. 

Most mammals, including us, have about five vertebrae at the base of their backbones, with a few bony projections sticking out on each vertebra, explained Stanley. But the first known hero shrew, S. somereni, has 10 to 11 vertebrae with many more bony projections that lock together, giving it unparalleled power in the animal kingdom.

It’s so strong that, according to written accounts of DRC explorers in early 1900s, a man stood on the back of a hero shrew for five minutes, stepped off, and the animal walked away unharmed, Stanley said.

Stanley’s not sure if the story well, holds up—he hasn’t tried it himself—but the anecdote is not surprising considering the hero shrew’s reputation among the local Mangbetu people. The Mangbetu wear parts of the hero shrew as talismans, believing the animal’s resilience renders them invisible to spears and bullets—hence its name, hero shrew.