Sometimes it is hard to tell some of our small Indiana mammals apart. Mice, moles, voles and shrews are all very similar in appearance.
Recently I have received some calls about little mammals that the callers had found dead in their yard, apparently killed by their cats but not eaten. From the description given me it was apparent they were shrews, one of our state’s most interesting little animals.
Webster’s Dictionary says a shrew is a “scolding woman,” and to be shrewish is “having an irritable disposition” or being “ill-tempered.” Well in humans this may be true, but in nature, while a shrew does have some of these characteristics, it is also an often overlooked segment of our Hoosier natural heritage.
Shrews are soft-furred, small, mouse-like animals with long noses. This is one way to tell them from mice. The trick is to tell one species of shrew from the other five species native to Indiana. Worldwide there are 312 kinds of shrews.
In Indiana we have the masked, smoky, pigmy, southeastern and northern short-tailed and least shrews. All look alike to me and it takes an expert to really tell what shrew you have found.
Shrews live to eat. They have such a high metabolic rate that they have to eat almost all the time or they will die. It is rare for a shrew to live longer than a year. Their heart rate can be as high as 1,100 beats a minute and respirations reach 250 a minute. Think what it would be like if ours were this rapid.
Shrews can be high strung and rather ill-tempered. They are always looking for something to eat and if you get in their way a shrew can be quite aggravated. There are some recorded cases of a shrew becoming so upset that they died of an apparent heart attack. This should be a good lesson for high-strung humans.