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Northern Short-tailed Shrew

NORTHERN SHORT-TAILED SHREW

Photo Credit: Jennifer Edalgo

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Blarina brevicauda

OTHER NAMES:  Short-tailed Blarina, Mole Shrew, Large Short-tailed Shrew.

DESCRIPTION:  The short-tailed shrew is a small mammal in the family Insectivora.  Members of this family have short legs, tiny eyes, and small ears.  Short-tailed shrews are similar in appearance to long-tailed shrews but have larger bodies.  Fur coloration is dark slate above and lighter, ash beneath.  Short-tailed shrews have a sharp-pointed muzzle that is comparatively shorter than other shrews.  These shrews have short, soft, velvety fur which conceals their small ears.  Their teeth are noticeably reddish-brown in color.  The short tail, which is less than half the length of the head and body, distinguishes the short-tailed shrew from most other shrews.  Total length ranges from 3.7 to 5.3 inches; tail length is 0.6 to 1.1 inches; hind foot length is 0.4 to 0.7 inches; and weight is 0.5 to 1.0 ounces. 

DISTRIBUTION:  Blarina brevicauda is widely distributed from Canada down through the Dakotas to the Gulf Coast of Texas and eastward to the Atlantic Coast. 

HABITAT:  The short-tailed shrew prefers moist forest, but also occurs in brushland, brushy fencerows, weedfields, dense pasturelands, and salt marshes of coastal areas. It can be found along the banks of small streams, around decayed logs or piles of old brush and in tall thick grass.

FEEDING HABITS:  Short-tailed shrews subsist on a diet of mostly animal matter with about 20 percent coming from vegetable matter. Animal matter that is consumed includes insects, earthworms, snails, beetles, slugs, spiders, salamanders, millipedes, centipedes, mice, and the young of ground nesting birds.  Vegetable matter is made up of fruits, roots, beechnuts, acorns, and leafy plants.  A subterranean fungus (Endogone) is also consumed.  Short-tailed shrews have a poison in their saliva that helps them overcome their prey.

LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY:  Short-tailed shrews are semi-burrowing animals that are active day and night.  During daylight hours they generally travel about in under ground passages which may include burrows of moles and meadow voles.  At night movement may be on the surface of the ground under leaves, moss, and loose loam.  Though often numerous in some locales, the short-tailed shrew is not considered to be a social animal.  Two or more individuals are seldom found together except during the breeding season that begins sometime between February and April and may extend into fall. As many as three to four litters of young may be produced annually.  Young are born in crude nests of leaves, roots, and coarse grass constructed under rocks, stumps, or logs. The gestation period is 21 to 22 days and litter sizes range from four to seven young.  Young are born pink and hairless and weigh about as much as a paper clip.  They leave the nest at 18 to 20 days of age and are full-grown in only three months.  However, they do not breed until the following spring.  Adult animals keep a warm nest apart from the nursery area year-round.  Animals communicate with a series of squeaks and clicks.  Ultrasonic sounds are also emitted for echolocation purposes.

REFERENCES:

Barbour, Roger H., and Davis Wayne H.  1974. Mammals of Kentucky. The University Press of Kentucky. 322 pp.

Goodwin, George Gilbert. 1935. The Mammals of Connecticut. Hartford. 221 pp.

Author: Bruce Todd, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries


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