The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Shrew
Story Of The Tenrec
Story Of The Rabbit
Story Of The Chamois
Story Of The Duckbill
Story Of The Peccary
Story Of The Linsang
Story Of The Aard-vark
Story Of The Gorilla
Story Of The Weasel
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Story Of The Shrew
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The shrew family has so many varieties that I will have to confine myself to some of the most interesting and important ones. These elegant little creatures are often mistaken for mice, in fact, they are commonly called shrew mice, although they belong to the family of insect-eating animals, and resemble a mole more than they do a mouse.
With the exception of a few varieties which have taken to a life in the water, the shrews live on the land and are active only at night. They are all covered with fur, generally remarkable for its softness; the head is long, with a sharply pointed snout projecting far in advance of the tip of the lower jaw; their eyes are extremely small and bead-like. They are to be met with throughout the whole of the temperate and tropical regions of Europe, Asia, Africa and North America, as well as on many of the adjacent islands. From their obscure and retiring habits the shrews are difficult of observation; their long and pointed snout, their elastic form, and short and velvety coat enable them to pass through the closest herbage, or beneath the carpets of dry leaves in the coppice and woodland, in which places, as well as in the open fields, whether cultivated or in pasture, they seek their food. But they are not con-fined to such places, however, as with their relatives, the water shrews, they are often met with in marshy and fen districts. On the other hand, one of the Indian shrews constantly frequents dwelling-houses.
The common shrews are known by their red teeth, the large size of their ears, and their long tails. The red-toothed shrews are quite unknown in Africa south of the Sahara, and they are only represented in India and the rest of the Oriental region by a single variety.
The common shrew, found abundantly in the British Islands, measures just short of three inches in length, exclusive of the tail, and is usually of a reddish mouse-color, paler beneath, with the tail rather shorter than the body. There is, however, considerable individual variation in color, specimens being sometimes found banded with white. Its food is insects, worms, snails and slugs.
Shrews are so given to fighting that two are rarely seen together except when in a fight, and if two or more are confined together, the strongest will soon kill the others.
The strong scent of the shrew serves to protect it against many foes, but it is not strong enough to disgust the owl, which bird kills and devours shrews with great relish. A cat will kill a shrew but will not eat it.
The varieties of shrews found in the United States are among the smallest members of the family. They spend less time underground, but when they move about on the surface they always seek the cover of fallen leaves and twigs.
The naturalist knows that however cautiously he may move his footsteps put to flight many forms of life that will reappear as soon as quiet is restored; therefore he often waits and watches and stops to, listen and observe. While thus occupied, it sometimes happens that a slight rustling reaches his ears.
There is no wind, but his eyes rest upon a fallen leaf that seems to move. Presently another stirs, and perhaps a third turns completely over. Then something like the shadow of an embryo mouse appears and vanishes before the eye can catch its perfect image. Anon the restless phantom flits across an open space, leaving no trace behind. But a charge of fine shot dropped with quick aim upon the next leaf that moves will usually solve the mystery. The author of the perplexing commotion is found to be a curious sharp-nosed creature, no bigger than one's little finger, and weighing hardly more than half a drachm. Its ceaseless activity, and the rapidity with which it darts from place to, place, are truly. astonishing, and rarely permit the observer a correct impression of its form. Whenever a tree or a large limb falls to the ground these shrews soon find it, examining every part with great care, and if a knot-hole or crevice is detected, leading to a cavity within, they are pretty sure to enter, carry in materials for a nest, and take formal possession. Not only are these agile and restless little shrews voracious and almost insatiable, consuming tremendous quantities of raw meat and insects with great eagerness, but they are veritable cannibals withal, and will even slay and devour their own kind.
The marsh-shrew from the Rocky Mountains, together with the swimming shrew from one of the Aleutian Islands, differ from the other members in having their feet provided with fringes of long hair.
Another variety of the red-toothed family is the short-tailed shrew found in the Adirondack Mountains.
The water-shrew, although unknown in Ireland, is found all over England and the south of Scotland. It likewise occurs over a large area of continental Europe, from whence it extends eastwards into Asia as far as the Atlas range. In the water these graceful little creatures are as much at home as water-voles or beavers; and in clear streams they may be observed during the day diving or running along the bottom, and turning over the pebbles with their sharp noses in search of fresh-water shrimps, which appear to constitute their favorite food. In addition, the water-shrew devours many kinds of water insects or their larvae, while it is also probable that it likewise preys on the spawn or fry of minnows and other small fish. There are, moreover, several instances on record where water-shrews have been found feeding on the flesh of larger animals, which they have found dead. The burrows of the water-shrew are made along the banks of ponds and streams.
The largest of the shrews is plentiful in India and is known as the musk-shrew, of which there are two varieties, brown and gray. The brown musk-shrew is found as a rule in woods (although it will occasionally enter buildings), the gray musk-shrew generally haunts human habitations. The gray musk-shrew is a common visitor to Indian houses. During the day it lies concealed in holes and drains, issuing forth at night to hunt over the floors of rooms for cockroaches and other insects ; while thus engaged it utters from time to time a short, sharp squeak. In respect of its insect-eating habits, this musk-shrew is a benefactor to mankind; but these benefits are accompanied by the drawback that various articles may be so impregnated with the musky secretion of the animal as to become utterly useless. There has, however, been much exaggeration as to the penetrating power of this scent, the well-known but absurd story that wine or beer becomes impregnated with a musky flavor from the circumstance of one of these shrews. having run over the outside of the bottle containing such liquor, being a case in point.