Description: This is the largest shrew in Kansas, and can be distinguished from other Kansas mammals by: 1) soft and silky hair that is silvery gray to black dorsally, and only slightly paler below, 2) a long, pointed muzzle extending beyond the mouth, 3) small eyes, and 4) small front and hind limbs and feet. Sexes are similar in size, and difficult to distinguish. This shrew can be distinguished from the Prairie Shrew and least shrews by its larger size and darker color.
Size: Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 92-121 mm; tail 19-25 mm; hind foot 13-18 mm; ear 13-15 mm; weight 13.5-15.5 grams.
Range and Habitat: In Kansas short-tailed shrews are on the western edge of their range, and within the state confined to the eastern parts. Short-tailed shrews prefer the damp soils of oak-hickory and other deciduous forests, grasslands, and riparian communities, where they use trails and burrows made by other small mammals, but avoid standing water. In deciduous forest they most frequently are found near old logs and at the bases of rock outcrops, burrowing in leaf litter and humus of the forest floor, as well as using tunnels excavated by other small mammals in soft soils.
Reproduction: Usually short-tailed shrews live alone and only in early spring and late summer do they come together for breeding. The gestation period is from 21 to 22 days at which time the four to ten (usually five or six) young (30 mm in length) are born hairless, pink, and wrinkled. Young are weaned at about three weeks of age and at two months females, at least, are sexually mature. It is possible that if a shrew is born in early spring it can breed by late summer or autumn of the same year. Males usually do not breed until the spring after their birth. The nests are constructed of leaves, grasses, and plant fibers, and commonly placed under logs, in burrows, or more rarely, on top of the ground.
Habits: As is true of other shrews, short-tailed shrews do not hibernate; they are active throughout the year. Short-tailed shrews are particularly active at night, resting only between hunts for food. In 24 hours they eat about half as much as they weigh. Their high metabolism (pulse rate 700 beats per minute) and continuing need for food at times force them to eat other small mammals; specialized teeth are complemented by salivary secretions of a poison that immobilizes mouse-sized prey in three to five minutes. The home range of this shrew varies from less than one to about four and a half acres.
Food: Although short-tailed shrews do not hibernate in winter they store reserves of food. As the name of the order, Insectivora, implies, shrews feed on insects, but snails, millipedes, earthworms, grubs, a host of other invertebrates, small vertebrates, and some vegetable material (particularly seeds) are commonly eaten. Food is captured by searching in ground litter or by digging superficial burrows in the ground. This species is known to echolocate by means of high-pitched calls, much as do bats.
Remarks: Owls and hawks feed on short-trailed shrews as do snakes. Regurgitated owl pellets containing undigested hair and bones provide evidence of shrews eaten by owls. It is estimated that short-tailed shrews live no more than two years in nature, although a captive individual lived for 33 months. Some carnivorous mammals (including the house cat) capture short-tailed shrews. Under normal conditions they seldom eat them, because skin glands (especially those of the flanks and anal region in both male and female shrews) secret odoriferous predator repellents. If you catch a short-tailed shrew, especially in the breeding season, you will smell this peculiar odor. The odor may not only repel predators, but also may act as a chemical signal to attract or deter other short-tailed shrews. This species was, until recently, regarded as a subspecies of the northern short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda).
Return to the Mammals of Kansas index page.