Creatures & Features
Pennsylvania's seven shrew species are out there but out of sight. Their tiny size, mostly nocturnal habits and underground or "under ground litter" habitat have limited researchers' ability to study these fascinating creatures.
A. This solid gray shrew, the largest in North America, grows up to 5.5 inches long from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail and weighs a whopping -- at least for shrews -- 0.5 ounces. It is found in woods and wet areas as well as in cities, and is one of the continent's most common mammals. This shrew, known for its ferociousness and poisonous saliva, bites its prey in the throat or face, and sometimes eats its victim while it is still alive. It eats insect and other invertebrates and will occasionally eat small mice or other shrews.
C. This shrew is one of North America's rarest mammals, as well as its tiniest, with a body length of 31/8 to 37/8 inches and a tail length of 11/8 to 13/8. It weighs 0.125 ounces -- about the same as a dime. Its has a brown to gray back and a silvery belly. It is found in deep woods, fields and mossy bogs and is thought to eat insect larvae, small worms, spiders and centipedes. "Mammals of Pennsylvania," which is published by the Game Commission, notes that the only record of this rare creature in the state is a skull found in the stomach of a red fox.
D. This nocturnal shrew with a brown back and gray belly is rarely seen. It lives in bogs, marshes and woods. Its metabolism is so fast that it must eat its weight or more per day of slugs, snails, spiders and moth or beetle larvae. It will starve to death in hours and captives kept in the same cage have been known to eat each other.
E. This rare, dark gray creature is also known as the long-tailed shrew. It is found in moist crevices among boulders or talus slopes near streams in coniferous mountain forests. It eats spiders, centipedes and beetles. This slender shrew's snout is longer and slimmer than its cousins.
F. This shrew has a gray or brown back and pale belly. It is also the only shrew besides the short-tailed shrew to have a short tail. It is found in grassy or weedy fields. Because of its high metabolism, it must constantly eat: larvae, worms, spiders and the internal organs of grasshoppers and crickets. Unlike other shrews, which are solitary, this shrew is quite social, and several adults have been found sharing one nest.
G. This shrew sports a brownish coat in the summer and a grayish coat in winter, when it is still active. It lives in cool, moist wooded areas; swamps; edge habitat; and along streams. It eats worms, sowbugs and centipedes.