Northern Short-tailed Shrew
The short-tailed shrew is one of the most common shrews and most abundant small mammals in its range. It inhabits the eastern United States from southern Canada to Florida, and occurs statewide in Pennsylvania. This shrew is dark slate above and paler below, slightly lighter in summer than in winter. It is the largest and most robust of Pennsylvania shrews. Overall length, 4.1 to 5.2 inches; tail 0.7 to 1.2 inches: weight 0.44 to 0.82 ounces. Short-tailed shrews live in almost all habitats: woods, banks of small streams, tall grass and brush. They frequent the top few inches of soil and leaf litter, digging their own tunnels or using those of mice, voles and other small mammals. They burrow through the snow in winter. Home range is a half-acre to an acre. Active day and night, short-tailed shrews eat insects, worms, snails, salamanders, small snakes, songbirds, mice, voles, other shrews, carrion and vegetable matter. Individuals cache food in small chambers in their burrows.
The short-tailed shrew has poor eyesight, a fair sense of smell and keen hearing and touch. It possesses poisonous saliva but lacks an efficient injection system, so the toxin must get into a prey animal through cuts caused by the shrew’s sharp teeth. The toxin slows down or kills warm-blooded prey.
Blarina brevicauda weaves dry plant materials and hairs into two types of nests, a resting nest and a larger mating structure, beneath logs, stumps, rocks and debris. Breeding may begin as early as January; 3 to 10 young (usually 5 to 7) are born 21 days later and are on their own at 25 days of age. Two or three litters may be raised per year. Foxes, dogs, bobcats, cats, skunks, weasels, hawks, owls, shrikes and snakes kill short-tailed shrews. The average lifespan is 18 to 20 months.