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Shrew, a cute and helpful fellow in the garden


Though mice and voles are not friends in the garden, every shrew is greatly welcomed! Indeed, this small mammal spends its nights (and days!) munching on all kinds of harmful insects that come its way.

The Shrew, a tiny insect-eating mammal

At first glance, you’d probably classify the shrew in the rodent category. Well, you are mistaken! The shrew is actually a small insectivorous mammal. Mice and voles are rodents, though, which makes the confusion understandable.

What is a shrewAnother characteristic of the shrew lies in its size. This little one measures barely 4 inches (10 cm) and weighs only a few grams. Covered in silky gray to brown fur, it has long whiskers, a pointed snout to dig into the ground, and small ears. Each of its paws has 5 fingers.

Constantly active, a shrew spends its days and nights feeding. That is its main activity. It devours nearly its own weight in grub every day! Feeding is in fact vital for the shrew, to the point that it sometimes eats its own droppings in times of scarcity.

Somewhat of a loner, the shrew is not a social being. It prefers to live its life on its own. Except for mating! Then, a male and a female meet up for a very short spurt. From this brief union, 2 to 8 babies are born. A female can have up to 5 litters per year, but infant mortality is high among shrews.

Difference Between Shrew, Mouse, Vole and Field mouse

  • The shrew belongs to the Soricidae family, while the mouse, vole, and field mouse belong to the Muridae family.
  • A shrew is insectivorous, while a mouse is omnivorous. As for voles and field mice, they are herbivores and feed on seeds, bulbs, vegetables, and grain.
  • The teeth of rodents grow continuously throughout their lives, which is why they tend to gnaw on anything and everything, but not those of the shrew!
  • The tail of mice is long, while that of a shrew is short.
  • The shrew’s snout, which is mobile, resembles a kind of trunk, while that of the mouse or vole is short. The shrew’s nose is also covered in vibrissae, small sensory hairs that allow it to move around and detect potential enemies!

The Shrew: An Effective Helper in the Garden

Shrew, beneficial animalThe main difference between the shrew and other rodents is its utility for the gardener. And if you have reason to fear mice, voles, and other little pests for their destructive abilities, welcome the shrew without fear!This cute little mammal is indeed an insatiable eater of insects, larva, caterpillars, slugs and snails, worms, grasshoppers, millipedes, spiders, shield bugs, and ticks. Hence its great usefulness in the garden or vegetable patch.

It may, of course, consume a few beneficial insects such as ladybug, ground beetle, or green lacewing, as well as detritus-eating woodlice. But in proportion, it can rid you especially of those that devour your young plants. Young plants that the shrew completely ignores (unlike the vole!)

Equipped with impressive muscles, the shrew is capable of lifting stones if it has spotted prey. As for its saliva, it is venomous and allows it to paralyze these prey, which will become its daily meal!

How to Welcome Them Best?

Garden shrew attractNow that their usefulness has been proven, let’s see how to welcome them. Simply by creating a small pile of branches, dead leaves, or stones near your compost, a veritable pantry for them!

Knowing that the shrew goes into torpor in winter, it can also take refuge there when it gets cold. And why not raise its offspring there when the time comes to become a mother. Similarly, don’t hesitate to leave an area with grass or sow a wildflower meadow where it can find its food.

Main Predators of the Shrew

As cute as it may be, the shrew has a few enemies. First and foremost, our own pets! Cats indeed like to chase and kill them, but won’t eat them. When they’re endangered, or under attack, shrews emit a foul odor.

What eats shrewsOther sworn enemies of the shrew are birds of prey such as owls, hawks, and owls, who do not seem to care about the bad odor.

Finally, the shrew’s main enemy is humans. Shrews do all the can to avoid us! In fact, it is quite rare to see a shrew, at most a fleeting blur at the slightest alert. If, unfortunately, a shrew manages to get indoors, lure it into a non-destructive trap with a few seeds or a tiny piece of meat and release it in the garden. Otherwise, it’s probable the shrew won’t survive for very long in your house.

And above all, do not listen to beliefs that claim shrews are dangerous to humans. Even though the term “shrew” is said to come from old German “schrewel” which means “devil”, there is nothing to fear: venom of the shrew does indeed paralyze its prey, but only insects, not humans!

Images: CC BY 2.0: Gilles Gonthier; dreamstime: Rudmer Zwerver; Pixabay: Jaqueline Henning, RPN

Written by Pascale Bigay | Writing is woven into Pascale's life, the threads of which also include nature, botany, gardening... That's why her words share such an immersive experience, a fascination with the simple discoveries of garden life, wonderful ornamental plants, tasty veggie-patch fresh recipes and the occasional squabble with her chickens...
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