by Paul Cormacain
TWO people talked to me about pigmy shrews last week.
One pigmy shrew got into a house in Belfast last week, and was very glad to get out of it alive and sane. I had a look at the house, and for the life of me do not know how the beast entered. Not enough space under doors, no holes in walls, doors not normally left open, so how did the creature get in?
David has a new, to me, anti-rodent device. There are cables around the house, and these emit some type of electromagnetic radiation, or perhaps they emit some sort of high frequency noise inaudible to the human ear. Whichever sort of emission is involved, mice and shrews hate it.
Humans experience no ill effect. A straying shrew will hear madness-inducing noises, or alternately will be subjected to radio waves of a frequency guaranteed to make it go mad.
The beast will then try to get as far away as possible, which means out of the house at least.
The shrew was seen in the hall floor, slowed down and not acting logically. The man of the house was able to approach it, brush it on to a shovel, carry it outside and release it. The shrew staggered off, and was not seen since.
There are 312 species of shrew. They live in most parts of the world, with the exception of Australia, parts of west Africa, and most of southern south America.
The smallest living terrestrial mammal is the Pigmy white-toothed shrew. Head and body are about 3.5 cms which means that you just might miss seeing one. It weighs just 2 grams, and if you want to see one badly enough you may head off to Africa for a while.
Shrews are in general small, secretive, mammals. They look superficially like mice, but have long pointed noses. Depending on their size, they may eat nuts, seeds, and other plant matter.
Worms would feature prominently in the diet of shrews across the water, while other creatures would feast on lizards, newts, frogs, and some of the shrews even dive for fish.
For the conservation-minded, 29 species of shrew are classified as Critically Endangered, 30 species are Endangered, and 56 species are Vulnerable.
Common shrews, pigmy shrews and water shrews all live happily and thrive in Britain. Only the pigmy shrew is of any consequence here, and it is very common everywhere, even found in cities.
The pigmy has to eat every couple of hours. Because of its small size and the comparatively large area of skin, heat loss is a very serious problem. The other extreme would be the elephant, which has a huge amount of flesh compared to a small amount of skin to allow the heat to escape.
The elephant does not need any hair as heat loss is not a problem. The pigmy shrew has to eat every few hours to provide internal heat from the food calories.
The shrew eats flies, bugs, beetles, spiders, woodlice, snails and anything else small that moves. For balance it even takes some greens! Paul told me about the shrew that got into his house. Again I examined the house, but could not figure out how the small creature entered. Enter it did, and then found an empty bottle lying at an angle. It went foraging in the bottle, but then the sides were too clean and dry it could not climb out again. The poor shrew died.
Talking to James Fisher last week, it seems that the shrew may only have lasted a few hours without food, and then a rapid deterioration set in, with death coming shortly afterwards.
The shrew that was attacked by emissions seems to have fared better than the shrew who went into a bottle.
Coming Events Sunday 16 November - At 2pm there will be a Willow Walk, beginning at Gawley's Gate Inn, where you will have a chance to hear of wildlife associated with willows, meet up with local craftspeople who work with willows. Details from Oxford Island, 3832 205
Thursday 20 November - It is Christmas Shopping at Castle Espie, at 6.30. Surely not that time of year. again? Phone Espie to find out on 9187 4146
Monday 24 November - Lisburn Society for the Protection of Birds is having an indoor meeting, Friends Meeting house, at 7.30, where you may learn more about Northern Irish Gulls. Details from 4062 6125.
Saturday 29 November - Learn more about the natural benefits of many of our native plants, 10am, and get more details from Oxford Island, on 38322205.