It’s a shrew! Answer to Freak of the Week #32



Reddish-purple teeth of the Short-tailed Shrew.

Several people knew that these stained teeth belonged to a shrew. This is one of those things in nature that once you’ve seen it, you never forget it! This is especially true for Rochelle. When we worked together in Montana she single-handedly cataloged thousandsof shrew specimens. She’d probably like to forget shrews but probably never will!







Photo by Phil Myers (White-footed Mouse)


Photo by Jamie McCarthy

So what is a shrew? Some people see this small mammal and assume it’s a rodent, but it’s actually quite different. Shrews are in the mammal Order Soricomorpha, formerly part of the old Order Insectivora, but are still commonly known as “insectivores”. Their diet does indeed include a lot of insects, but they also eat worms, snails, seeds, fungi and even other small vertebrates. They have a voracious appetite and will eat close to their own body weight in food every day. I’ve talked to researchers who have live-trapped shrews but find that the one surviving shrew in the trap has consumed the other individuals! Compare our common Short-tailed Shrew to the beautiful native mouse, the White-footed Mouse (photos). Mice are in the mammal Order Rodentia.

The Short-tailed Shrew is unusual, even in the freaky world of shrews, because it is one of the few mammals that is venomous! It’s salivary glands produce a toxin which the shrew uses to help subdue prey species such as worms and small vertebrates! The toxin can kill small animals and can deliver a painful bite to humans who try to handle the animal. The toxin flows along a groove formed by the lower incisors and is injected into the prey when bitten.

Why is a venomous mammal even more interesting today!? Because tomorrow is the annual Open House at the Museum of Biological Diversity at OSU, and the theme this year is “Venoms, poisons, and the organisms that make them!” Click here to see my blog post about the Open House.

Why do some shrews have stained-looking teeth? Tune in early next week for the answer! See you at the Open House tomorrow!


Posted February 6, 2015
Topics: Natural History

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