Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Least Shrew (Cryptotis parva) is one of the smallest creatures in the Class Mammalia, growing to be only up to 3 inches long. These tiny shrews are active at all hours of the day, but mostly at night. Least shrews have a long pointed snout and a tail never more than twice the length of their hind foot. They have a dense fur coat that is either grayish-brown or reddish-brown with a white belly. Their fur becomes lighter in the Summer and darker in the Winter. Although similar in appearance to several species of rodents, the least shrew is a member of Insectivora and should not be mistaken for a member of the Rodentia order. Found in the grasslands of Eastern United States and in Central America, the least shrew utilizes the surface runways of rodents larger than itself.
The least shrew’s eyes are small and their ears are completely concealed within their short fur, giving the least shrew very poor eyesight and hearing. Hunting by smell and touch, the least shrew digs through loose soil and leaf litter for their prey along the surface of the ground. The behavior of captive individuals suggests that they can also tunnel through moist soil in search of food much like moles do. Their diet consists of mostly small insects, but they will also eat from the corpses of dead animals, and small amounts of seeds or fruits. When eating crickets and grasshoppers, the least shrew will bite off the head of its prey and eat only the internal organs. When fighting a larger creature, the least shrew will aim for the legs and try to cripple its adversary. Least shrews will bite lizards, which are often too large for the least shrew to kill, on the tail, which then falls off and provides the least shrew with a meal while the lizard escapes. Least shrews will also sometime live inside beehives and eat all the larvae. They will often share their food with other shrews, or store it away for later.
Least Shrews make their homes in burrows or shallow runways under flat stones or fallen logs. Their burrows are about 2.5cm in diameter, form 25cm to 1.5m long, and seldom more than 20cm below the ground. Least shrews are social creatures and often cooperate in digging their burrows and often sleep together. They will line their burrows with leaves and grass in nests for the purpose of rearing children. The breeding season extends from early March to late November. Females produce two or more litters each season. Each litter will consist of about three to six young, each on weighing about 0.3g, which grow quickly and will be adult size in about one month. Least shrews rarely live more than a year. The natural predators of least shrews are owls, hawks, red foxes, raccoons, striped skunks, and snakes. The least shrew will try to defend itself with its venomous saliva.
- The Mammals of Texas Revised Edition by David J. Schmidly
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