Prairie Shrew Sorex haydenii Baird

Description:   Prairie Shrews can be distinguished from the other two Kansas shrews by their long tail (more than 30 per cent of the total length). Like Elliott's Short-tailed Shrew, this species has 32 red-tipped teeth; but it is smaller than the Short-tailed Shrew, and distinctly bicolored, cinnamon-brown on the back with greyish underparts. Although it is about the same color and only slightly larger than the least shrew, the Prairie Shrew can be identified by: 1) longer tail, and 2) possession of two more teeth. The sexes do not differ in size.

Size:   Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 88-97 mm; tail 33-38 mm; hind foot 11-13 mm; weight 3-5 grams.

Range and Habitat:   The Prairie Shrew has only recently been described from northcentral Kansas (Neas et al., 1981), although it is locally common in adjacent Nebraska, and may be expected to inhabit other parts of the Big Blue, and possibly the Republican river drainages. It is an inhabitant of grasslands rather than forested areas, although it is not as tolerant of aridity as is the least shrew. It may be found in marshy areas or adjacent to standing water, unlike the short-tailed shrew. In Kansas, Hayden's shrew is at the southern limit of its range.

Reproduction:   Nothing is known of the reproduction of Prairie Shrews in Kansas, although some data are available on the closely related Sorex cinereus collected elsewhere. Reproductive activity probably starts in the early spring and, after a mid-summer lull, may resume in autumn. The gestation period is probably 19 to 22 days and from four to 10 young are produced in each litter. The young remain in the nest about 20 to 30 days and are of nearly adult size when they disperse. Ordinarily, neither sex reaches reproductive maturity until the spring of the second year, although some females may produce a litter in the fall of their first year. Females may have from one to three litters a year. Nests may be found under logs, rocks, or in burrows dug by the shrews or other animals, and are described as looking like bird's nests 60-100 mm in diameter.

Habits:   The Prairie Shrew is found scurrying along its runways, its long nose and vibrissae searching into crannies and under leaves. Eyesight is apparently poor and of little importance in their lives, but they rely heavily on hearing and tactile senses. Upon encountering small prey the shrew catches it with its mouth, the front paws being used to manipulate the prey while it is being eaten. Larger prey, such as beetles and earthworms have their heads bitten off before they are eaten. A large grasshopper is "hamstrung' by bites on the hind legs, and then the head bitten off. Excess food may be cached.

  An interesting behavior called "caravanning" has been described in this species, as well as the Least Shrew. When young shrews move from place to place, each shrew puts its nose in the rump fur of the shrew in front of it. The entire litter then moves in a long line. Littermates are very gregarious and play has been described in captive animals; at about 35 days of age, however, the animals become solitary, and may then fight littermates. As far as is known, Hayden's shrew then leads a solitary life, except for breeding.

Food:   Prairie Shrews depend heavily on insects and other small invertebrates for its food supply, although it will also eat carrion, seeds, and small vertebrates. Some studies indicate that the size of the preferred food items of shrews is correlated with their body size; this species thus probably feeds on small prey.

Remarks:   Prairie Shrews are preyed upon primarily by owls and other raptors; however, they may also be taken by foxes, snakes, and even large frogs. Their apparent bad taste limits predation by cats and other predators. In breeding season, the glands along the side of the animals become enlarged and an odor can be noticed. The glands are probably used as sexual signals, and it is felt that they reduce predation on the shrews by making the shrew taste bad. The Prairie Shrew has only recently been recognized as distinct from the similar masked shrew (Sorex cinereus).


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