The short-tailed shrew is about 4-5 inches long. This shrew is distinguished by its lead-gray to black velvet fur, its long pointed snout, tiny eyes and short tail (about 1/3 body length). Fur conceals rather large external ear openings. The closely related least shrew is smaller, has an earless head and has a more distinct neck. Andy Saunders, previously of the FNA, helped to verify the identification, based on these images.
This shrew is found throughout eastern and central N. America. It is believed to be common at Fontenelle Nature Center but is rarely seen except for deceased animals along trails. This photo was taken next to the Fontenelle Nature Association Visiors Center in early December. It is most common in moist forests but is also found in vegetable gardens, flower beds, fields and marshes. Other shrews spend more time above ground than does the Short-tailed Shrew, which prefers to tunnel along below ground, through the leaf litter or at the snow/ground interface.
This shrew is one of a few venomous mammals. The toxin it produces is strong enough to kill small animals, up to sizes somewhat larger than the shrew itself, and results in painful bites to humans who attempt to handle the shrew. Three well-developed scent glands are present, one on each side of the animal and one ventral. The scent may be used for marking territories, though the shrew’s sense of smell is thought to be poor. This animal has a high mortality rate, though it attempts to escape predation by remaining hidden under vegetation, soil, leaf litter, or snow.
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