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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Winter shrew

We have an old farmhouse that features an unfinished basement. Consequently, we have mice more or less all the time. But over the weekend my wife reported a dark ball of fur darting past the washing machine and she concluded: It was a shrew. So I set a Sherman trap baited with peanut butter and within hours, I captured a short-tailed shrew. I placed him in a cardboard box and took a bit of video with my Go Pro. Got a minute? Watch the video here.

I wanted to get some photos of the shrew in snow but I didn't want to just release him outdoors. We have had a very cold winter so far with lots of snow. Letting him go outside might jeopardize his survival. So I came up with a different plan. I filled a large Tupperware container with snow and placed the shrew in it. I hoped that I could snap off a few photos before the shrew bolted for the dark corners of the basement. Much to my surprise, the shrew tunneled through the snow and climbed on the edge but refused to leave. I got my photos and then gently returned him to his adopted home.

One defining characteristic of our shrews is the dark enamel on the teeth. There are white-toothed shrews elsewhere in the world, but our shrews all have dark teeth.
Short-tailed Shrew
(2/15, Seneca Falls, NY)

The short-tailed shrew is very common and may be the most common mammal in New York State. They have small eyes and no visible external ears. They are NOT rodents and therefore not closely related to mice. In fact, the short-tailed shrew can actually prey on mice with their venomous saliva.
Short-tailed Shrew
(2/15, Seneca Falls, NY)
Aaaahh.... :) Check out the tiny black eye visible in the photo below. The real story is those whiskers though. This is an animal that uses scent and touch more than vision.
Short-tailed Shrew
(2/15, Seneca Falls, NY)
Shrew tunnels are smaller in diameter than mouse tunnels. Shrews are active all year and require an enormous amount of calories each day. I have read that the short-tailed shrew specifically takes in 75% of its own weight each day. In that is a lot to find in the subnivean world.  I hope my shrew ingests lots of spiders and maybe even some mice in that basement of ours!
Short-tailed Shrew tunneling in the snow
(2/15, Seneca Falls, NY)
Did you remember that this was all staged in a little Tupperware full of snow? Here is the shrew getting up on the lip. But after a moment, it was back into the snow!

One bonus photo: Shrew scat. Whether you call it shrew poop, shrew scat or shrew droppings, it is all the same thing. I am not sure how typical this scat is, but it looks very different than the pellets that are produced by mice.
Shrew scat
(2/15, Seneca Falls, NY)
Thanks for reading. Check out my other shrew posts to see a shrew nest and some baby short-tailed shrews.

1 comment:

  1. Good commentary on an interesting but little known mammal.

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