Ioan has been fascinated by shrews this week, pygmy shrews in particular. He has spent his spare time writing a pygmy shrew poem and researching all about them. Walking through the fields, on the way to school today, we spotted a dead shrew.

Ioan absolutely loves animals and was distraught for days when he accidentally trod a snail. So, I thought he was going to be heartbroken, but he decided it was fate and that the shrew had been left on the footpath for him to learn even more about them.


Identifying the shrew

Ioan wanted to measure the length of the shrew (4cm) and compare it to the information on the Mammal Society and NHBS websites. He and Finny examined the shrew’s features closely to try and help them identify the type of shrew.

Water shrew

Ioan was confident that it wasn’t a water shrew, which has black fur on top, with a very contrasting pale grey underside. They often have little silver ear tufts and white hairs around the eyes. They are the UK’s largest shrew species, measuring 6-10cm and with a tail that is 4.5-7.5cm.

Water shrew by Ulrike & Jörg via Flickr

So that left either a common shrew or pygmy shrew.

Common shrew

A common shrew normally measures 4-8cm. It’s fur is dark brown on the back, paler brown on it’s sides and white on its undersides. The tail, which has little fur on it, would be about 2.5cm long for a shrew measuring 4cm in length, up to 4.5cm for an 8cm long shrew. This makes the common shrew’s tail roughly half the length of the body.

Common shrew by Jo Garbutt via Flickr

Pygmy shrew

The upper part of a pygmy shrew has a grey-brown fur, with an off white belly. A pygmy shrew measures 4-6cm in length, with a tail measuring 3-5cm. It’s hairy tail is roughly two-thirds of it’s length, which is longer, proportionally, than that of the common shrew.

Pygmy shrew by Andrew via Flickr

Ioan measured our shrew again to double check his measurements. It was 4cm long, with a tail that was over 3.5cm and quite hairy. That combined with it’s colouring, made him confident it was a pygmy shrew.

Ioan shared some of the things he had been researching before breakfast, not knowing he would cross paths with one just a couple of hours later.

As Ioan mentioned in the video above, another difference between the shrew species, is that the pygmy shrew has red-tipped teeth. This is due to iron deposits (which act as a resistance to wear). On closer inspection, this shrew definitely had red tipped teeth, confirming his classification.

Further research

Pygmy shrews are found in a wide variety of habitats in the UK, particularly those rich in ground cover like hedgerows, grasslands, woodlands and peatlands. Pygmy shrews do not burrow themselves but will utilise the burrows of other animals.

The diet of the species includes beetles, spiders, bugs and woodlice and it has to consume up 1.25 times its body weight each day in order to survive. This is due to its extremely small size and subsequent high metabolic rate. A period as little as two hours without food can therefore lead to starvation.

Pygmy shrews do not emit audible twitters during foraging like other shrews (a primitive form of echolocation) but will produce an audible ‘chit’ when threatened or encountering another individual.

Image from The Mammal Society

DfES Outcomes for EYFS and National Curriculum (2013)

Science Year 1 programme of study

Animals, including humans

  • identify and name a variety of common animals including fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals

Science Year 2 programme of study

Living things and their habitats

  • identify that most living things live in habitats to which they are suited and describe how different habitats provide for the basic needs of different kinds of animals and plants, and how they depend on each other
  • identify and name a variety of plants and animals in their habitats, including micro-habitats