Shrews

We gardeners share our playgrounds with lots of other critters -- that's not a surprise to any of us, is it? Some of them we consider to be pests and dread seeing in our yards (unless they're behaving themselves). Deer, rabbits, woodchucks, gophers and the like fall into this category. On the other hand there are those that we definitely love seeing in the garden: various birds, frogs, turtles, butterflies. They don't cause any damage and make the place more alive. Then there are some critters that some people love and some people do not: snakes, lizards, spiders. (I personally love all of these, and am still trying to attract snakes and lizards into my yard.) Finally there are critters that we don't really care about or even notice until they do something "noteworthy". In this last category I would put mice, voles, and shrews. These smaller animals are probably more common in your garden if you have a "wild" area nearby or within your yard, such as woods or grassy fields.


They probably live most of their lives completely unnoticed by you, or maybe you'll get a glimpse of them once in a while. Unless of course they do something you don't want them to, or go somewhere you don't want them to be. This second case is what I'm dealing with right now.

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Today's problem animal is a shrew. More specifically, I believe it's a southern short-tailed shrew. Even more specifically than that, it's several southern short-tailed shrews that have started living in my garage (or at least visiting it many times a day).


Shrews are fairly beneficial in a garden's ecosystem for the most part. Research shrews in general and you'll see that their main food source is insects. Some sources don't even list seeds or plant matter as parts of their diet. Research the southern short-tailed shrew from the right source and you'll see a difference:

The food habits of these shrews are strangely unshrewlike in that they consume relatively large quantities of vegetable matter (nuts, berries, and so forth).

Ah, that explains why they were attracted to the large pile of spilled birdseed in my garage (the bag had been chewed through).

It also may explain why it may be shrews that are responsible for destroying some bamboo plants. Some bamboo growers (like Brad at Needmore Bamboo) don't mulch their bamboo any more, since voles or shrews will use the mulch as cover and chew on bamboo rhizomes, often decimating a plant. Brad originally thought that voles were the culprits, but now he believes that they're actually shrews. I haven't yet noticed any shrew damage on my bamboos, but it could be that I'm less aware of what that damage looks like.

Back to the garage...


Once I discovered the birdseed mess I cleaned it up, and now am trapping these little pests. I use live traps, and have relocated several of the intruders way at the back of my yard on the compost pile. Besides providing plenty of cover, the compost pile has lots of insects in it, as well as tasty vegetable snacks (especially if shrews like banana peels). A perfect new home for any shrew, right?

"Look at my tiny eyes! My eyesight is terrible."

After catching my fourth shrew of the afternoon, I got suspicious and started marking the caught shrews with a drop of blue food coloring on their backs. Can you guess what happened next?

"This is probably what I look like to another shrew: blurry!"

Besides the fact that touching a quiet, still shrew (with a Q-tip) results in a spasmodic jump, ear-splitting squeak, and little jolt of human adrenaline, I learned that a couple of hundred feet of dense garden is no obstacle to a shrew. That's right, I soon started catching blue-tinted shrews! So I've begun taking them deeper into the woods.




Another thing I learned about shrews: they stink. I'm not sure if it's their urine or if they have scent glands that produce that odor, but it's definitely pungent. Not nice at all.


One of the most amazing things I've ever seen* involved shrews. About 15 years ago we had a pile of sticks next to the driveway. (This was before I started gardening, so there were actually areas in my yard that were unplanted.) My stepson noticed that shrews were running along specific "trails" in the sticks, and he held an empty plastic jar there to try to catch one. To our surprise, one ran right into the jar!

After getting a good look at the little guy -- neither of us had ever seen a shrew up-close before -- I told him to release it back where it came from. So he put the jar back into position to let the shrew run out.

As soon as the jar touched the ground, not only did the captured shrew not run out, but a second shrew immediately ran into the jar! We were completely surprised and delighted by this, and after a couple more minutes of observation dumped them both out without putting the jar all the way down again.

(*Okay, maybe it's not one of the most amazing things I've ever seen, but it's in the top 10 Nature-related things for sure.)


So I'm hoping I'll have the garage-invading shrews out of the way soon.



And that's the end.

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Gerhard Bock  – (July 19, 2011 at 9:57 AM)  

Wow, I've never seen a shrew. They're kinda cute, actually. What we have are RATS. In the winter, they nibble on plants; in the summer, they eat our vegetables. We hardly have any tomatoes this year because of them. We have to be more diligent about setting out traps...

Gerhard
:: Bamboo and More ::

kacky  – (July 19, 2011 at 11:37 AM)  

Hilarious! I have never seen a shrew. They are actually kind of cute- on your blog anyway.... hopefully you are rid of them but what a little adventure! Thanks for posting. Very amusing cute post!

Lancashire rose  – (July 19, 2011 at 11:55 AM)  

What a story. I used to catchhispid cotton rats and one time i did drop a blob of paint on the back. I was sure they were returning. Never did see it again though . I don't mind snakes although I was a little nervous about finding a coral snake. Very rarely do I wear gloves!

Alan @ It's not work, It's gardening!  – (July 19, 2011 at 12:01 PM)  

Lancashire rose: I really want *any* snakes, but I'd prefer ones that can't kill me. Yikes.

JiffyJ  – (July 19, 2011 at 1:02 PM)  

My nemesis rodents are mice. I was chuckling to myself about you "relocating" your shrews to the back of your garden. I tried that with our mice. They have made their way back from over a block away.

Cathy and Steve  – (July 20, 2011 at 2:33 PM)  

We have the same issues with voles. Moving them several hundred feet might not be far enough either. Especially if they get into the walls, they can be a real problem (and an expensive one).

M  – (July 21, 2011 at 2:18 AM)  

Word of advice, some North American shrew's are poisonous make sure your ID is 100% correct. I can second the notion that they enjoy bamboo groves I have found several, mostly dead over the years.

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