Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tiny Creatures

There are animals so small you'd never know they were there. Despite being active both day and night, they are secretive and silent — and there's a good chance they might be living in your own backyard! I'm not referring to insects, or some other sort of invertebrate — I'm talking about shrews! There are several species of shrew in North America; we've already met one of them here, Blarina brevicauda, the Northern Short-tailed Shrew. As far as mammals go, the short-tailed shrew is pretty small — but there's a shrew even smaller, if you can believe it.

The Masked Shrew (Sorex cinereus) is widespread throughout the northern United States and most of Canada. As an opportunistic eater, it preys upon anything from worms and insects to seeds — even salamanders, frogs, and small rodents. A critter with a very high rate of metabolism, the masked shrew must eat constantly, and will consume three times its weight in a single day!

As far as mammals go, it's also incredibly tiny.

Much like last spring's star-nosed mole, this masked shrew was found dead on the bike path that runs past our house. It's very likely that a predator caught and killed it, only to be repulsed by its scent. With a body length of only 3.5 inches — and that's including the tail — this shrew was one of the smallest (vertebrate) animals I've photographed.

It's hard to believe that this tiny creature shares the same organs and skeletal structure as us! It's also amazing that this shrew — so miniscule and delicate, needing to eat almost constantly to survive — can weather the cold, harsh winters of the Upper Peninsula. 

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