Friday, September 21, 2012

A Tiny Mammal with Iron-tipped Teeth ...

I found these photographs of a pygmy shrew Sorex minutus when I was sorting through some pictures that I took back in the autumn of 2006.


We encountered this delightful little animal, which is the smallest British native shrew, when we were walking in Hamsterley Forest in County Durham. From a distance it looked like a tiny ball of fur zig-zagging along the path. It seemed oblivious to our presence so I spent the next five minutes on my knees, trying to follow every move while it relentlessly searched the vegetation for prey. It never stayed still for a second and turned out to be one of the most infuriating animals that I've ever tried to photograph - these are the only sharp(ish) images from about 40 that I took. Following it, as my knees got wetter and muddier, and my language became more colourful, provided a lot of amusement for the family. 


With those tiny eyes, I suspect that pygmy shrew's vision isn't very acute and it must rely on that wonderful array of whiskers - like radar antennae - on its elongated nose for locating prey.


You can see the tail quite well here, which is surprisingly large for such a tiny creature. I've read that individuals that survive through the winter lose the hairs on their tails in their spring moult, so this must be a youngster.


Apparently pygmy shrews, like common shrews, have red-tipped teeth, due to iron deposits that reinforce the tips. 


 You can see the array of whiskers quite nicely in this image. The use of flash for the photograph makes the coat look much lighter than it seemed in normal daylight.


Pygmy shrews' lives consist of alternating periods of rest and intense foraging, when they need to find enough food to compensate for their very high metabolic rate. They need to consume about one and quarter times their own body weight in prey items every day, just to survive. After five minutes whizzing around in front of the camera this one disappeared down a hole under a tree root, presumably for a snooze.


12 comments:

  1. I too found one of these in Clumber Pessopm111ark. I failed miserably but it was totally absorbed in what it was doing.

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  2. Superb photography. An animal I would love to see!

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  3. I love these little guys... I have a good population of their North American cousins in the forest here. That's a LOT of prey per day!

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  4. Great photographs, worth the effort of knee walking! Thanks for the chuckle.

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  5. I too would love to see the pigmy shrew.

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  6. Brilliant shots Phil. Well worth a wet knee or two.

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  7. They seem oblivious to everything around them, don't they Adrian?

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  8. I've only ever glimpsed one once before Caroline.

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  9. No wonder they're so busy, Valerianna!

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  10. It's a whole new world when you're down there at small mammal level snippa!

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  11. Maybe you have the tropical equivalent lotusleaf...?

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  12. Wet knees are an occupational hazard for macrophotography, aren't they John?

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