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Insectivora

( Originally Published 1936 )

THE Insectivora are mammals of small size that derive their name from the fact that they live chiefly upon insectS, the order including Hedgehogs, Moles, and Shrews, and other allied but less well-known forms. Many of them live on the ground, some inhabit trees, others burrow in the ground, and still others live in the water, but all are more or less night animals. They usually have long, narrow snouts, five toes terminating in claws, on each foot, and walk with the sole of the feet on the ground. Some are covered with spines, others with fur, hair, or a mixture of fur and spines. The Insectivora are widely distributed over the Old World and North America, but are not found in South America.

FAMILY ERINACEIDAE

Hedgehog (Erinaceus eurgopaeus)

The largest of these animals, the Hedgehog, is about the size of a large rat, has pointed black muzzle, short legs and tail, and the whole back is covered with sharp spines, which, on the face and lower part of the body, are replaced by coarse hair, the under parts being nearly naked. The colour is brown above, with whitish spines bearing a dark ring about the middle, and yellowish-white beneath. See Plate 6, Fig. 28. The young, of which there are from four to eight in a litter, are pink, with undeveloped white spines, and are born blind. The Hedgehog sleeps during the day, coming out at night to feed upon insects, worms, slugs, and small animals, such as birds and snakes, and throughout the winter is completely torpid, the body being nourished by the fat which has been stored up for this purpose. When alarmed, it rolls itself up into a tight ball by means of powerful muscles beneath the skin, the spines sticking out in every direction, and in this state it may fall from a considerable height without injury.

The flesh of the Hedgehog is said to be very good eating, but it is not a common .article of diet at the present time.

FAMILY TALPIDAE

Mole (Talpa europoea)

The Mole is another very interesting little animal, both in structure and habits. It measures about four inches in length, without the short tail, the fur is very thick, soft and silky, and generally blue-black, though light-coloured specimens are occasionally met with. The long, pointed muzzle extending beyond the under jaw, and the large bare feet are generally pink, the fore-feet formed for digging and armed with strong claws, but otherwise having a curious re-semblance to hands. See Plate 6, Fig. 27. The eyes are beneath the skin, and probably are only sensitive to changes in the amount of light. The Mole lives entirely underground, where it burrows long and complicated galleries, with occasional wider chambers forcing up small mounds of loose earth known as " mole-hills." It feeds chiefly on worms and insects, is extremely fierce and voracious, and is said to starve to death if deprived of food for even a few hours. This animal is common in most parts of Europe and throughout northern and western Asia and Japan. It does not hibernate in winter, like the hedgehog, but only burrows deeper into the ground.

In the eastern parts of the United States is found a web-footed Mole (Scalops aquatus), which is not a water animal as one might suppose from the webbed hind-feet, but burrows in the ground like the common Mole.

The Star-nosed Mole (Condylura cristata) is so called from the peculiar star-like arrangement of cartilage at the end of its long snout. The fur is dense and fine, dark grey in colour, and in habits this Mole agrees with the others. It is common in the northern part of the United States and in Canada.

FAMILY SORICIDAE

Water Shrew (Crossopus fodiens)

The Shrews, or Shrew-Mice, as they are often called, are small animals with long and pointed snouts and long tails. They resemble mice in general appearance, but are at once distinguished by the snout and by their teeth, which are not rodent-like in character, the upper incisors being hooked, while the lower lie almost horizontal. The Water-Shrew, one of the largest species, is upwards of three inches in length without the tail, which is nearly as long as the body. It varies considerably in colour, but is usually black above and white below, the feet and under-surface of the tail being fringed with long white hairs. See Plate 6, Fig. 25. The Water-Shrew is widely distributed throughout the Old World and North America. It lives in burrows on the banks of streams, swims and dives with great activity, and feeds on water insects, fish and frog spawn, and even on small fish.

House Shrew (Crocidura aranea)

The House Shrew, or Musk-Shrew, as it is some-times called, is common in Europe and parts of Asia, and is distinguished by its white teeth, in this respect differing from other members of the family in whom the teeth are a reddish colour. It is greyish-brown above, and pale grey below, and measures rather less than four and a half inches including the tail, which is more than half the length of the body. See Plate 6, Fig. 26. This little creature is often seen about mills and granaries, but it will not eat bread or meat, feeding upon insects, and is said to consume daily about as much food as its own weight.



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