The common shrew is one of Britain's smallest mammals and is closely related to the mole and hedgehog.

Daily Life

Shrews are not often seen because they spend most of their time underground. They are mainly nocturnal but are often about during the day; their high-pitched squeaks can be heard as they scurry along tunnel-like runways through the grass, leaf litter or soil. A shrew is always on the go, twittering and poking its long nose here and there as it forages for food. It has a short rest every hour or two, but uses up so much energy in its busy life that it will starve to death if it goes without food for more than three hours.

Earthworms are one of the common shrew's main foods but it eats many other small invertebrates, consuming almost its own weight every day. The shrew finds its food mainly by using its keen sense of smell - it has poor eyesight; long whiskers help it find its way about.

A shrew cannot bear to have another in its territory, except at breeding time, and if two shrews meet along the same tunnel they touch whiskers and squeak; if the intruder does not retreat both rear up on their hind legs and squeak more loudly; if this has no effect, they both fall onto their backs, wriggling and grabbing each other by the tail, squeaking even more loudly! They rarely hurt each other - it's more of a squeaking contest than a fight!

Many shrews are eaten by a variety of predators, including owls, hawks, magpies, jackdaws, weasels, stoats, adders and smooth snakes. Cats kill large numbers too, but rarely eat them because the shrew's skin has foul-tasting glands which also give it a nasty smell! Some other predators also probably find shrews distasteful.

Shrews do not hibernate but spend the winter in hedge-bottoms and copses among the dead leaves. In summer they spend more time in grassy fields and rough pastures. A shrew sometimes even climbs grass stems after insects and has been known to climb a tree, up to 3 metres in height, looking for food. It can spread its toes apart and this helps it to climb.

Read More: Breeding

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