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Shrew Evidence of Intrusion

Shrew evidence of intrusion may be particularly difficult to determine visually. As one of the smaller mammals visual sightings are rare. Please review the other types of evidence that have been gathered for you below to help determine if you have shrews in your yard, gardens and buildings.

Shrew Evidence of Intrusion- Tracks

Tracks vary only slightly between species and are usually about one (1) inch wide with the tail drag showing behind. The tracks of the front feet will be parallel to the tracks of the rear feet. Remember to look for five (5) toes on both the front and rear tracks. Look for tracks in wet soils or snow.

Shrew Evidence of Intrusion-Scat

Shrew scat, or droppings, is uniquely corkscrew shaped. Shrews often have a regular scat spot. Look for this type of evidence of intrusion as small, rice grain sized corkscrew scat in piles rather than scattered about.

Shrew Evidence of Intrusion-Ground Litter Tunnels

Shrews make extensive runways under the leaf litter in wooded areas. Look for small tunnels, only one (1) to two (2) inches wide. This type of evidence will be prevalent in wooded areas and lawn areas that are left at a longer length.

Shrew Evidence of Intrusion- Holes and Nests

Evidence of shrews will often come with the discovery of nests or nest entrances, i.e. holes. Shrews often build their nests underground; as a result, they leave visible entrance holes above ground. Look for small holes, approximately one (1) inch in diameter or smaller. This evidence would be best sought near fence rows and building foundations. The nests themselves will be quite homey and lined with vegetation and fur.

Shrew Evidence of Intrusion-Smell

Shrews have a defense mechanism much like the skunk-a putrid stench. Shrews have glands that secrete a substance from their underside that is so repugnant that while a predator may kill a shrew, they normally do not eat it! Evidence of shrew intrusion could include a smell likened to rotting garlic. If a shrew has taken up residence under you home you will detect this smell occasionally.

From the shrew’s ever present repugnant odor to their corkscrew shaped scat there are some very unique methods to determine shrew evidence of intrusion.

Shrew Interesting Facts

Shrew interesting facts are as plentiful as they are entertaining. Please read on to learn more about the shrew.

  • Short-tailed shrews are so close in physical appearance the only way to tell them apart, aside from their range, is by chromosome count!
  • Shrews lose their baby teeth early in life just like humans
  • North America’s pygmy shrew is the second smallest mammal in the world!
  • Old English folklore says that if a shrew ran across a farm animal that was lying on the ground the animal be caused intense pain. To stop the pain a shrew would be chased up an ash tree and a twig from the tree would be taken and brushed on the farm animal to get rid of the pain.
  • Ancient Egyptians believe that the shrew was the spirit of darkness.
  • Shrews have also been thought of as a beast god that would protect stored grains from rats and mice.
  • Shrew comes from the Middle English word “shrewe” which translates to mean an evil or scolding person.
  • There are over 300 difference species of shrews in the world.
  • Shrews live on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
  • There are some species of shrew that live in water habitats.
  • There are some mammals with “shrew” in their name that are not actually shrews. These include Elephant shrews and porcupine shrews.
  • Shrews have extremely fast heart beat that averages 700 beats per minute. With a heart beating so fast the animals are easily startled, and with deadly consequences. Shrews have been known to die of fright after a loud burst of thunder.
  • The Short-tailed Shrews have an interesting trait not seen in many mammals: a poisonous bite! It has been determined that they have glands in their teeth that secrete a poison toxic to smaller mammals such as mice and other shrews which renders them paralyzed and helpless. This is what allows these animals to prey on mammals larger than themselves.
  • Shrews excrete a musky smell from scent glands located on the belly and sides. The smell is so foul that while shrews are often killed, they are rarely eaten.

From the many folk tales and Egyptian lore, to the fact that that the shrew often dies from fright there are many shrew interesting facts.

Shrew Diet

Shrew diet is very much dependent upon supply. The shrew has a very large pallet of foods they will eat including insects, small mammals and plant material. They are well known for their voracious eating habits which often lead the animal to eat nearly three (3) times their weight each day! With that kind of appetite it is not difficult to see how a large population of shrews could cause problems for the backyard gardener.

Shrew Diet-Food

While the shrew diet consists of most anything edible out of doors, they do favor insects over anything else. Some of their top picks are beetles, crickets and grasshoppers. They will also eat smaller insects including centipedes and millipedes and smaller wasps. Butterfly and moth larvae are considered tasty little morsels, as are the more meaty snails, slugs and worms. Not all species of shrew eat plant materials but those who do, including the Northern Short-tailed Shrews, partake in berries, seeds, nuts and roots. Small mammals, amphibians and birds are also taken including those larger than the shrew itself! This can be snakes, frogs, salamanders, mice, and even other shrews!

Shrew Diet-Physical Attributes

You may be asking yourself how such a small animal can eat animals larger than itself. In the case of the Short-tailed Shrews this accomplished through the use of poison. These shrews produce a toxin in their teeth that render their prey helpless once bitten!

Most other shrews use echolocation to find their next meal. They will search though ground litter and dig burrows by emitting a high pitched call that bounces back to them when it hits an object. Scientists believe that this is how the shrew detects insects underground.

The shrew diet is urged on by a super fast metabolism. It has been determined that the shrew’s heart beats nearly 700 times per minute (on average) and could only survive a few hours without food. Additionally, because the shrew does not hibernate the process of eating generates much needed heat during the winter which may help the animal survive the coldest days of the year. To keep going they will store food for the wintertime when food availability is limited.

Shrew Diet-Benefits and Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

The shrew diet can have great benefits to humans in that they eat a huge number of insects that some may consider pests to garden plants and even larger agricultural plots.

Unfortunately, they have been known to attack birds and even chipmunks at backyard feeders which can be quite upsetting. That voracious appetite may lead them into your food stores as well which can cause contamination of the pride of your harvest!

Stored foods, song birds and your fall harvest are some of the detriments to humans and the ecosystem from the shrew diet.

Shrew Habitat

Shrew habitat in North America is as varied as the continent itself. They prefer land over water but do prefer wetter areas of land. The Northern Short-tailed, for example, prefers damp woodlands, bogs and marshes. Much to the backyard gardener’s dismay, this means they will love a well watered flower and vegetable garden! They are also found along fence rows, in barns and in sheds. Fruit and vegetable cellars are also well known habitats where the shrew choose to reside.

Shrew Habitat-Range

The range of the many species of shrews is very distinct for each one. The table below describes the range for 31 shrews known to live in North America.

Shrew Habitat-Nests

Shrew nests are generally found underneath something if they are not completely underground. Underground tunnels are not only created by the shrews but they also take over the tunnels made by other small mammals including mice and moles. They will also set up shop under logs and rocks and in crevices of rocks and rotting logs. Building foundations are also popular nesting sites for shrews. Despite their crotchety demeanor, shrew nests will often be quite homey and lined with a cozy layer of vegetation and fur.

From the wet areas of the Florida Everglades to the frigid mountain peaks of Alaska, the North American continent provides very suitable shrew habitat.

Shrew Benefits & Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

Shrews are very beneficial to the environment. They keep a good handle on insect pests including snails, mice and foliage destroying pests such as the larch sawfly. Because owls have a less developed sense of smell, the odor of the shrews does not bother them and shrew represents a very important prey animal for owls.

That poisonous bite, while not lethal to humans and domestic pets, can lead to some very painful days and perhaps an expensive trip to the doctor. Shrews can also cause problems when they decide to take up residence in building foundations and not necessarily because of structural damage, because of the unpleasant odor of the shrew.

Shrew Behavior

With so many varieties of shrews there are many different types of behavior with respect to their activities. Some shrews are active day and night and some are more active in the dark. None of the varieties of shrews hibernate during the winter months. Not even the ones living in northern Canada!

Their vision is poor and those little eyes do not do much good in showing the animals their neighborhood so they have come up with other ways to get around. Many scientists believe that shrews use echolocation to view their world. This is the same thing that bats do. Basically, the animals send out high pitched sounds, often clicking noises, into their environment. The speed at which the sound returns to the animal allows them to determine what and where objects are such as insects, plants, rocks, animals and people.

The Short-tailed Shrews have an interesting trait not seen in many mammals: a poisonous bite! It has been determined that they have glands in their teeth that secrete a poison toxic to small mammals such as mice and even other shrews which renders them paralyzed and helpless. This is what allows these animals to prey on mammals larger than themselves.

Family life is very utilitarian for all shrew species and shrew populations can reach high numbers fast. Mating occurs anytime between March and September with females giving birth two (2) to three (3) times per year. Litters can range from three (3) to upwards of eight (8) babies at one setting born only three (3) weeks after conception. The babies stay with mom for about 25 days before they leave the nest and are off on their own. With female shrews reaching sexual maturity at six (6) weeks old and ready to mate again almost immediately after giving birth, it is no wonder that shrew populations can get out of hand quickly!

Shrews have a very high metabolic rate which includes and very fast heart beat. Some shrews have had their heartbeats measured at 1200 beats per minute! To maintain themselves they must eat their weight in food every day. This is accomplished by eating every few minutes. With a heart beating so fast the animals are easily startled and with deadly consequences. They have been known to die of fright after a loud burst of thunder!

Predators of the shrew include mainly owls, weasels and foxes. Shrews have a defense mechanism much like the skunk. They excrete a musky smell from scent glands located on their bottom and sides. The smell is so foul that while shrews are often killed, they are rarely eaten.

Shrew Physical Appearance

Shrews are very small mammals, in fact, two (2) of the shrew species represent the smallest mammals on earth! Of the four (4) families, Desert, Red-toothed, Short-tailed, and Small-eared shrews, the largest animals are represented by the Northern Short-tailed Shrew. The Northern Short-tailed Shrew can grow to about four (4) or five (5) inches in length not including a tail that is just over one (1) inch in length at most. The fur of the shrew is uniformly gray and very soft.

All other species of shrew are similar in appearance including a pointed snout and uniform colored fur. They all have very small eyes and ears, too. Sharp claws atop five (5) front and rear toes help the animals climb trees.

The Red-toothed Shrews have dark tips on their teeth, hence their name. This pigmentation is caused by iron deposits. Since the shrews are not technically rodents, they do not have continuously growing incisors. Scientists theorize that the iron deposits may increase the ability of the teeth to last longer.

Shrew Natural History

Shrews are found on every continent on the planet except for Antarctica and Australia. There are over 300 species across the globe with over 30 known to exist in North America. The most common shrew found in North America is the Common Shrew, Sorex cinereus. Also known as the Masked Shrew, these animals live in forested areas and are not normally known for affecting humans and ecosystem either detrimentally or beneficially on any grand scale. There are many others that do, however.

Northern Short Tailed Shrew

Scientific Name: Blarina brevicauda
Phylum: Chordata
Order: Soricomorpha
Family: Soricidae
Genus: Blarina
Species: brevicauda

Shrews are some of the most aggressive mammals on the planet. Thoughts of the shrew conjure up thoughts of angry irritable creatures the care not for much of anything. The reality is that these animals very much mirror their reputation, but, for the most part they do not cause too much of a problem. However, issues can occur when there are large populations of shrews in your yard, gardens or property.