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Friday, June 14, 2002


Greater shrew-mole

* Japanese name: Himizu
* Scientific name: Urotrichus talpoides
* Description: The greater shrew-mole belongs to the mole family but, befitting its name, it has features of both moles and shrews. It has short, thick, dark-brown to black fur that conceals its small eyes and ears, a pointy nose and forepaws that are only slightly broadened -- more shrewlike than molelike. Body length is 9-10 cm, tail length 3-4 cm. Adults weigh between 14 and 20 grams. Although the fur is dense, it is not as lush and velvety as mole fur. It sometimes has a metallic sheen.
* Where to find them: The greater shrew-mole is found only in Japan, from Honshu to Kyushu, in open areas, woods and farmland. Unlike true moles, shrew-moles are agile and active aboveground. They are said to be less shy than moles, so are more easily spotted. Like shrews, shrew-moles make surface tunnels in leaves and grass. There are two species in Japan: the greater shrew-mole and the lesser shrew-mole, which lives in coniferous forests in the mountains. Both are common in their respective habitats. Greater shrew-moles forage aboveground as well as in their shallow tunnels and can even climb trees and bushes. In winter, shrew-moles are sometimes found dead in bird-nest boxes, having crawled inside in search of food and been unable to escape -- the lonely, desperate fate of the one in the photo.
* Food: Spiders, insect larvae, small insects such as ants and anything that can't put up a fight, such as worms, snails and slugs. Also, arthropods such as centipedes and sow bugs and even fungi and seeds.
* Special features: The shrew-mole's densely haired tail is often thickened with fat. During the cold winter months, the animal can metabolize the fat in its tail to provide it with valuable energy. Around Tokyo, males are in good enough condition to start mating from mid-February to May, and females become pregnant in March and April. Baby shrew-moles are born (three or four to a litter) in April and May. Further south, mating starts in January and young are born as early as March. If food is plentiful and females are in good condition, there may be another round of reproduction, with more babies born from June to September. Gestation and lactation periods are short, just four weeks each.

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