Shrew. (Sjonge/Wikimedia Commons)

Shrew. (Sjonge/Wikimedia Commons)

Nature Nut

Rosamund Pojar

One day my husband and I were surprised to see a very small, black furry creature walk hurriedly past our feet, head for a partially buried wooden plank, stick its long, pointed nose under the plank and start tugging on something. A few seconds later it successfully pulled out a garden slug and promptly ate it. Wow….my hero. I have way too many slugs, so knowing I have a creature that eats them is wonderful.

The furry creature is a shrew, possibly a Common Shrew or Dusky Shrew, although they are hard to identify without being able to examine their teeth. Since they can give a nasty, but harmless to humans, bite it is usually best to avoid such close examination unless the animal is dead.

All shrews are small, with the Pygmy Shrew being the smallest mammal in British Columbia. Shrews are more active and visible at night and tend to remain hidden in the vegetation during the day. Due to their small size and high metabolic rate, they need to eat very frequently. Most are insectivorous and can eat insect larvae, ants, crickets, centipedes, fungi as well as slugs and snails.

Cats (and dogs) like to play with them, although they generally avoid eating them. Shrews are not poisonous, but rather are venomous. Shrews are very pugnacious and can give a predator a nasty bite, usually on the face. Some venom can be transferred to the predator in the bite and the venom can transfer lungworm to cats and dogs. Shrews also have a strong, musky, odour that is thought to deter predators.