Friday, May 6, 2011

Short-tailed Shrew

Short-tailed Shrews are found in most of northeastern North America.  They thrive in cold winters and indeed, temperatures over 95 degrees F can be lethal.  Below 77 degrees, these shrews must increase their metabolic rate to maintain their body temperature. They do this by increasing their food consumption during the winter, when they eat up to 43% more than in summer. They hoard food in caches.

This individual poked its head out from under the leaf litter as we raked under the bird feeder.  Short-tailed Shrews dig their own burrows and use passageways made by other mammals.  They eat up to three times their weight each day.  They eat bird seed, fungi, and a wide variety of animal prey.   They consume more vertebrates than do other shrews.  One reason for this larger prey is that Short-tailed Shrews are one of the few venomous mammals.  Their saliva contains a toxin that can kill small animals, and can be painful to people who attempt to catch them. The toxin is produced in their lower jaws and flows along a groove formed by their incisors.  According to Wikipedia (from which most of this information is taken), the toxin is being studied as drugs to control pain, to fight cancer, and to counteract high blood pressure.

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