SHREW

By Kristi Norman, TWRC Wildlife Center

Although shrews may look like rodents, they actually belong to the insectivore family. While a shrew might eat some vegetation if necessary, their main diet is beetles, crickets, snails, earthworms, millipedes, scorpions, small snakes and birds, mice and even other shrews. Since shrews eat many unwanted insects, they can be beneficial in yards and should not be eradicated unless they become a nuisance. 

Shrews are very ferocious for their size and may bite when handled. Despite shrews’ tiny size, their bite can deliver pain that lasts for days due to venom secreted from their salivary glands. Shrews use the poisonous saliva to paralyze prey. A shrew can then hoard captured prey for future feedings. Because the paralyzed prey is still alive, it won’t spoil for days. This is especially important in winter months. It also allows them to kill or disable prey larger than themselves.

Researchers have found a found a small, active peptide in the shrew’s venomous brew that they’ve since synthesized and named soricidin, after the shrew family Soricidae. They noticed that soricidin exhibits paralytic properties, making it potentially useful in treating migraines, myofacial pain, neuromuscular diseases, and even wrinkles.

Shrew have small eyes which are nearly covered by thick fur, so they don’t see much except light and dark. They also have a poor sense of smell. So how do they find their way around? They navigate using the same technique as whales, dolphins and bats: echolocation. Using a combination of sounds, shrews can explore locations and even locate prey.

Shrews are considered nocturnal, although they’re active pretty much day and night. This is because of their high metabolism. Shrews have to eat about three times their own body weight each day to avoid starvation. They have tiny eyes and ears, an elongated snout, short furred tail and are a solid grey color. They live solitary lives except for mating. Weighing in at only a few grams, shrews are one of the smallest mammal species in the world and one of the very few venomous ones. A very unique creature!