While checking out this habitat I came across an odd and seldom seen mammal. At three inches in size, it’s packed with energy. It is the largest shrew in North America.
The Northern Short-tailed Shrew consumes up to three times its weight in food each day. It is mostly carnivorous, preferring insects, earthworms, voles, snails and mice for the bulk of its diet.
It is one of the few venomous mammals that exist; its saliva is used to paralyze and subdue its prey. This enables them to kill mice and larger prey and paralyze invertebrates such as snails and store them alive for later eating.
This animal can be found in grasslands, old fields, fencerows, marshy areas, forests and gardens; its preferred habitats are moist with a fair amount of leaf litter or thick plant cover. Northern Short-tailed Shrews construct elaborate runways under leaves, dirt, and snow and construct their nests in tunnels or under logs and rocks.
Other shrews spend more time above ground than the Northern Short-tailed Shrew, which tends to tunnel below the ground or through leaf litter. Its tiny eyes indicate its poor eyesight due to a mainly subterranean lifestyle. Its ears are almost completely hidden by the fur.
The tail is quite short, amounting to less than 25% of total body length (most shrews have significantly longer tails). The Short-tailed Shrew’s species name, brevicauda, means literally “brief (brevi) tail (cauda).” These deceptively ordinary little creatures are one of our most interesting and overlooked mammals.