Elephant shrews vary in size from about 100 mm to almost 300 mm, from just under 50 g to over 500 g. All are quadrupedal with mouse-like tails, and rather long legs for their size, and although the size of the trunk varies from one species to another, all are able to twist it about in search of food.
Their life span is about two or three years. Their diet is largely insects and other small creatures, particularly beetles, spiders, worms, ants, and termites, mostly gleaned from leaf litter, but they also take seeds and some green shoots. They have large canine teeth, and also high-crowned cheek teeth like those of ungulates.
Although mostly diurnal and very active, they are difficult to trap and very seldom seen: elephant shrews are wary, well camouflaged, and adept at dashing away from threats. Several species make a series of cleared pathways through the undergrowth and spend their day patrolling them for insect life: if disturbed, the pathway provides an obstacle-free escape route.
Females give birth to litters of one or three young several times a year, after a gestation period varying from 45 to 60 days. The young are born relatively well developed, but remain in the nest for several days before venturing outside.