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Short-tailed Shrew On the Hunt!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ordinary day. I'm housecleaning. Twenty hungry cross-country athletes would arrive for a pasta dinner in a couple of days, and I wanted the place to look spiffy. I glanced out the kitchen window to see a tiny dark charcoal-colored shrew hurrying through the myriad red mulberry leaves that cover the lawn. I ran outside to see it and realized that I needed my iPhone to capture some video.

I'm so excited as I narrate this video that I initially misidentify the animal as a smoky shrew. Only upon watching the video and referring to a field guide do I realize that it's actually a short-tailed shrew, a much more common species, and incidentally the only one likely to be found inside a house. I lived for a short time in a converted barn in Connecticut that had an infestation of short-tailed shrews. It was much like being infested with white-footed mice (chewing of food packages, droppings, rustlings and scamperings) except that there was a lot more squeaking and bickering involved amongst the infesters. 

Short-tailed shrews will eat about anything. They're on a strict diet. They have to eat all the time. Kinda like mine. While I watched this animal it caught three different sizeable insects and reduced them to dinner in very short order. You'll get to see his best kill in this video.

So hunker down with me in the cold grass and the mulberry leaves and watch a short-tailed shrew do his thing. And please pardon the misidentification. Science Chimps get excited, and when they get excited they usually aren't right.

A couple of neat things about this video: First, when you're viewing the action through your iPhone, you miss stuff. I almost completely missed the initial find and kill of the prey item. Which meant that I missed the significance of the shrew's circling back, revisiting the prey item, then backing up and "baying" at me. He was defending his kill from me! And when he circled back he was going back to eat it. He thought I wanted to eat it too.

Second, the reddish-black teeth are typical of shrews. Look kinda nasty, like betel-stained teeth...When you find these little ebony-chestnut teeth in an owl pellet or fox dropping, you know they've been eating shrews.

Hope you enjoy this bit of amateur inquiry from a few inches above our lawn on Halloween Day.

photo by Bill Webb, "Science Chimp and Cub." Used without permission. ;)


Loved the video - thanks for sharing.. reminded of when I was helping collect critters for a museum and one of my traps had something very small caught in it, it turned out to be a Least Shrew and the first ever recorded for Hardin County in Texas... cute little buggers...

Fascinating. I see fleeting glimpses of these little creatures from time to time around our house. They squeak at me from time to time. I always feel like they are saying go back into the house.

Learned something, didn't know they were poisonous. Are they to humans as well?

Posted by Anonymous November 5, 2013 at 5:31 AM

Shews: The beautiful silvery gray coats. If they were as large as dogs, they probably would have been trapped to extinction. Assuming they could get rid of the wonderful, acrid smell.

I wanna live at your house.

Odd juxtaposition of this Attenboroughish posting with the Miley Cyrus mating ritual one. I think it's time to get some fresh air and see what Scout's nose finds.

"...he just looks poisonous, what a darling creature." This made my day! I love how you love and admire everything about a creature. Fascinating about the napless fur.

Posted by Karen Wiebe November 5, 2013 at 9:04 AM

Amazing, Julie, you are a rock star naturalist!

Thanks, Julie, interesting and entertaining! I found a shrew on a road bordering a park near my house, whirling in a circle, apparently disoriented and/or perhaps unable to climb up the slate curb. I collected it in a bucket and released it deep in the park. In a few moments it had dug a whole in which it was no longer visible.

Posted by Gail Spratley November 5, 2013 at 10:24 AM


Wow! That was wonderful to see.--hart

Lil' Napoleon shrew, my hero.

Me, only being five foot two.

xoxo Watched that video more than twice.

When I was watching the video & the shrew started scolding you so loudly my cat went wide eyed and came rushing over to see : >

Posted by Sheila Z ~^..^~ November 5, 2013 at 7:15 PM

A while back I caught a shrew in my house. I thought it was a mouse at first, then noticed the fur was completely different from mouse hair. He was carried out to the meadow and set free. Still not sure how he got in my house though!

Might have followed a mouse in through its hole! Short-tailed shrews eat mice!

So from 4:15 to 4:40 -- is that a flea?? Watching at work, so no audio, will have to hear it when I get home; great footage!

Love this. I once trained a short-tailed to eat sunflower seeds out of my hand. I have a photo of that somewhere. I'll send you a copy if I can find it.

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