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Friday, June 7, 2002


Slender shrew

* Japanese name: Togarinezumi
* Scientific name: Sorex gracillimus
* Description: The shrew is the archetypal small furry mammal, resembling the first mammals that ever existed. It has brown fur with a white underside, a long tail, small ears and eyes, and a pointy nose. Slender shrews are 6-7 cm long. Shrews were long thought to be the smallest mammals, but then the hummingbird bat was discovered and that claimed the title.
* Where to find them: Slender shrews are found in Hokkaido and their close relatives, Laxman's shrews, are found in Hokkaido and Shikoku. They live in fields and grassland, woods and forests. Shrews make tunnels in grass and dead leaves; these act as foraging thoroughfares and can be found more easily than the shrews themselves. Shrews make high-pitched squeaks, usually when they meet another shrew. It has been suggested that the squeaks have an ultrasonic, echolocation function like the squeaks of bats. However, it seems more likely that the piercing squeaks are a form of aggressive communication -- when two shrews meet, squeaking continues until one of the shrews retreats. During these encounters, shrews are less wary about staying under cover, providing a better opportunity to spot them.
* Food: Spiders, insect larvae, small insects such as ants, and worms and snails. Shrews have extremely high metabolic rates, so they need to eat often. They have a three-hour feeding cycle -- they feed for three hours and rest for three, though they are more active at night. A shrew deprived of food for more than a couple of hours, say if it gets trapped in a discarded bottle, will probably die. If you empty an old can or bottle, you can sometimes find the skeleton of a shrew.
* Special features: Shrews have scent glands on their flanks that mark the grass and leaves in their tunnels and denote ownership. A rutting male may pick up the scent of a female as he crosses her trail, and track her down. Cats often kill shrews, but don't eat them; it seems that the scent glands make the shrew taste bad. This doesn't stop cats from dumping them on your doorstep though.

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