Shrew Species of New York (Upstate)

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About Shrews (and how they are different from mice)

These furry little mouse-like mammals often are, but should not be, confused with mice. Similar in size and shape, these constantly moving, elusive little animals should not be confused with rodents; they are on a totally different branch of the evolutionary tree. Shrews are primarily insectivores, with sharp, pointy teeth to match their hunting habits. They do not have strong incisors for gnawing grain like mice do. In fact, shrews are more closely related (and may look and behave more similar) to moles than mice.

Shrews lack the ability to hibernate and rarely store food. This means they are constantly hunting and eating to keep their high metabolism going. They will eat every few minutes and only a small number of shrew species can last over a few hours without eating. They primarily live and hunt underground, feeding on any insects they can find. Because of their high metabolisms, they will be active both day and night, often coming above ground under cover of darkness. This is probably why they are rarely seen by humans.

How can I tell a shrew from a mouse?

The heads are shaped differently with shrews having a far more elongated snout than mice. A shrew’s eyes and ears are much, much smaller, with the ears being barely visible in some species. The eyes look like tiny black dots. A mouse will have prominent ears and large, beady eyes. If you can see the teeth, a shrew will have sharp, pointy, and almost hooked incisors; adapted for capturing and crunching insects. Shrew teeth also have a dark brown tint to them. A mouse will have the typical large, broad, and yellow incisors of a rodent; adapted for constant gnawing. Shrews have 5 toes compared to a mouse’s 4.

Shrew Books and Field Guides

 

New York State Shrew Species Identification Guide

Least Shrew
Least Shrew
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Least Shrew
(Cryptotis parva)

AKA: North American Least Shrew

Identifying characteristics: a small mouse-like body with a pointed snout, tiny black eyes, and no visible ears. In winter the velvety fur is dark brown with a cream underside. In summer the fur will become a lighter shade of brown. The tail is never more than twice the length of the hind foot. The feet are whitish.

Size: 2.5 to 4 inches in length (including its .5 to .8 inch tail) and weighs .15 to .25 oz.

Habitat: grassy, brushy fields with plenty of ground-cover. Nests are usually shallow burrows lined with leaves or grass.

Food: primarily insectivorous. They tend to feed on any any invertebrate they can find, including worms, snails, slugs and insects. They usually eat only the internal organs of large insects, such as grasshoppers and crickets. Least Shrews are known to enter bee hives and feed on the brood.

Vocalization: soft chirps and squeaks; barely audible by humans. They are believed to use echolocation (similar to bats) to navigate and explore objects.

Predators: owls, hawks, red foxes, raccoons, skunks, snakes, domestic cats

Reproduction: Litter size average 5, with multiple litters a year. The young will stay with the mother for about a month. Mating season is from March to November.

Other Info.: They are active both day and night, with most activity during the night. Although most shrews are solitary, this particular species is known to be social, often nesting with up to 30 others. Some cooperative burrowing has also been observed. They may live up to 2 years in captivity, but rarely last more than a year in the wild. They have musky secretions that have a foul taste to deter predators, but are often mistaken as mice and killed anyways.

Distribution

Distribution

Southern counties

Status: none

Tracks

Shrew Tracks

Shrew tracks are tiny and barely show up. Look for them in mud, fine sand or dirt.

Prints will have tiny, 5-toed feet (.2 to .5 inches in length). The hind feet are longer and may overlap the foreprints. The tail may drag through the center of the tracks.

Long-tailed shrew
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Long-tailed shrew
(Sorex dispar)

AKA: Rock shrew

Identifying characteristics: a small mouse-like body with a pointed snout, tiny black eyes, and no visible ears. The velvety fur is slate gray with slightly lighter underparts. The feet are whitish. They are similar in appearance to the Smokey shrew, but are more slender and have a longer tail (that is not bi-colored).

Size: 3.8 to 5.1 inches in length (including its 2 inch tail) and weighs .14 to .21 oz.

Habitat: rocky slopes of the Appalachian mountain range, usually near rock slides, within crevices created by the piles of rocks. They prefer cool and moist forest in high altitudes. Nests are lined with grasses and leaves.

Food: omnivorous. Insects (such as centipedes, beetles, spiders, worms, and crickets) and plant materials (berries and roots).

Vocalization: soft chirps and squeaks; barely audible by humans. They are believed to use echolocation (similar to bats) to navigate and explore objects.

Predators: owls, hawks, foxes, raccoons, skunks, weasels, snakes.

Reproduction: Litter size average 5, with multiple litters a year. The young will stay with the mother for over a month. Mating season is usually April through August.

Other Info.: They are active both day and night, with most activity during the night. They are very solitary and will become very aggressive when in close proximity of each other. They have musky secretions that have a foul taste to deter predators, but are often mistaken as mice and killed anyways. In the wild, they rarely live more than 2 years.

Distribution

Distribution

Adirondack and Catskill regions.

Status: none

Tracks

Shrew Tracks

Shrew tracks are tiny and barely show up. Look for them in mud, fine sand or dirt.

Prints will have tiny, 5-toed feet (.2 to .5 inches in length). The hind feet are longer and may overlap the foreprints. The tail may drag through the center of the tracks.

Masked Shrew
Masked Shrew

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Masked Shrew
(Sorex cinereus)

AKA: Common shrew, Cinereus shrew

Identifying characteristics: a small mouse-like body with a pointed snout, and tiny black eyes. Their ears, although covered in fur, are large and sometimes visible. The velvety fur is grizzled brown on the back and grayish-white on the underparts. The tail is tri-colored; brown on top and paler underneath, with a black tip. The tail is nearly as long as the body. Despite their name, they do not have any distinctive mask-like markings.

Size: The second smallest of the shrews (the Pygmy Shrew is smaller). Averaging 3.5 inches in length (including its long 1.5 inch tail) and weighs an average of .1 oz.

Habitat: Forests, meadows, bogs, and marshland; preferring a close proximity to water. Nests are built out of leaves or grass, usually under a log, rock, or within patches of grass.

Food: omnivorous. Ants, insect larvae, both aquatic and terrestrial insects, occasionally seeds and fungi.

Vocalization: soft chirps and squeaks; barely audible by humans. They are believed to use echolocation (similar to bats) to navigate and explore objects.

Predators: owlshawksfoxesraccoonsskunksweaselssnakes,  domestic cats.

Reproduction: Litter size average 7, with multiple litters a year. The young will stay with the mother for 19 days. Mating season is usually April to November.

Other Info.: Although active both day and night, most of their activity is under cover of darkness. The Masked Shrew is solitary (like most other shrews), but it is common to find many of them living in close proximity. Although rarely seen by humans, this is one of the more common shrews.



Distribution

Complete distribution

Found throughout the state

Status: none

Tracks

Shrew Tracks

Shrew tracks are tiny and barely show up. Look for them in mud, fine sand or dirt.

Prints will have tiny, 5-toed feet (.2 to .5 inches in length). The hind feet are longer and may overlap the foreprints. The tail may drag through the center of the tracks.

Pygmy Shrew
Pygmy Shrew
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Pygmy Shrew
(Sorex hoyi)

AKA: American pygmy shrew

Identifying characteristics: a small mouse-like body with a pointed snout, tiny black eyes (sometimes covered in hair), and no visible ears. The velvety fur is grizzled brown (with a hint of rust) on the back and grayish-white on the underparts, with the fur lightening in winter. The tail is bi-colored; brown on top and paler underneath. The tail is about a 3rd the length of the body.

Size: the smallest mammal in the Americas. Ranging from 1 to 1.2 inches in length (including its .4 inch tail) and weighs an average of .1 oz.

Habitat: a variety of habitats, including forests, meadows, bogs, and marshland. Can be found living in a variety of ground debris or tunnel systems (abandoned by insects or rotted roots) usually close to sources of water. Nests may be within tunnel systems or under a log or stump.

Food: omnivorous. Insects, worms and some plant material.

Vocalization: barely audible squeaks, purrs, and whistles. They are believed to use echolocation (similar to bats) to navigate and explore objects.

Predators: Snakes, birds of prey, domestic cats. They use a foul odor to deter predators.

Reproduction: litter size average 5, with 1 litter a year. Mating season is usually June through Aug.

Other Info.: Active both day and night. They are solitary and likely to attack others that intrude on their territory. Nearly blind, they rely on their sense of smell and touch to guide them. You will see their snout constantly in motion. They are avid diggers, but will often use tunnel systems dug by insects or left by decaying roots. They will dig through loose soil or leaves to find insects. They rarely live beyond 2 years in the wild.



Distribution

Distribution

Northern and Great Lakes-adjacent regions.

Status: none

 

Tracks

Shrew Tracks

Shrew tracks are tiny and barely show up. Look for them in mud, fine sand or dirt.

Prints will have tiny, 5-toed feet (.2 to .5 inches in length). The hind feet are longer and may overlap the foreprints. The tail may drag through the center of the tracks.

 

Northern  Short-tailed Shrew
Northern Short-tailed Shrew
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Northern
Short-tailed Shrew
(Blarina brevicauda)

Identifying characteristics: a mouse-like body with a pointed snout, tiny black eyes, and barely visible ears. Compared to other shrews, the snout is shorter and more blunt. Their velvety fur is almost uniformly gray with slightly lighter underparts. The tail is short, no more than a fifth of the body.

Size: a large shrew, 3 to 4 inches in length (including its .6 to 1 inch tail) and weighs about .6 oz. Males are slightly larger than females.

Habitat: they are found in a variety of habitats, but prefer damp woodlands, brushy fields, bogs and marshes. They may or may not need ground cover as they tend to burrow under objects such as logs, rocks, and stumps and tunnel within snow, grasses and leaves. They are often found in suburban gardens and barns. Nests are usually burrows under logs or rocks, lined with grasses or leaves.

Food: omnivorous. Often feeding on insects, snails and worms. The will also occasionally feed on smaller vertebrates (including salamanders, mice, birds, and other shrews), nuts, and seeds.

Vocalization: chirps and squeaks. A clicking sound is often used in courtship. They are believed to use echolocation (similar to bats) to navigate and explore objects.

Predators: owlshawksfoxesraccoonsskunksweaselssnakes,  domestic cats. They will secrete a foul smelling substance to deter predators.

Reproduction: Litter size average 6, with multiple litters a year. The young will stay with the mother for about 19 days. Mating season is from March through September.

Other Info.: They are active both day and night, with most activity during the night. They are solitary and likely to attack others that intrude on their territory. This shrew is venomous. Its saliva contains a toxic substance that helps subdue larger prey.



Distribution

Complete distribution

Found throughout the state.

Status: None

 

Tracks

Shrew Tracks

Shrew tracks are tiny and barely show up. Look for them in mud, fine sand or dirt.

Prints will have tiny, 5-toed feet (.2 to .5 inches in length). The hind feet are longer and may overlap the foreprints. The tail may drag through the center of the tracks.

Smoky Shrew
Smoky Shrew
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Smoky Shrew
(Sorex fumeus)

Identifying characteristics: a mouse-like body with a pointed snout, tiny black eyes, and barely visible ears. Their velvety fur is almost uniformly grayish-brown in summer, but turns a smoky-gray in winter. The tail is long, about a third of the total body length, and is bi-colored: brown or gray on top and pale tan underneath.

Size: a large shrew, 4 to 4.5 inches in length (including its 1.6 inch tail) and weighs about .3 oz.

Habitat: deciduous and mixed forests, often within leaf litter, mossy rock outcroppings or rotting logs. Proximity to streams or other bodies of water preferred. Sometimes in bogs, swamps, or damp grassland. Nests are usually under rotting logs or within leaf litter.

Food: omnivorous. Insects, worms, spider, fungi, and occasionally other invertebrates (mostly small mammals, but possibly salamanders).

Vocalization: chirps and squeaks. They are believed to use echolocation (similar to bats) to navigate and explore objects.

Predators: owlshawksfoxesraccoonsskunksweasels, domestic cats, short-tailed shrews.

Reproduction: Litter size average 6, with one to three litters a year. The young will stay with the mother for about 20 days. Mating season is from March through September.

Other Info.: They are active both day and night, with most activity during the night. They are solitary and likely to attack others that intrude on their territory. Despite their aggressiveness, territories of the Smoky Shrew may be close together in optimal habitats. They borrow extensively into the leaf litter of the forest floor and are rarely seen.



Distribution

Complete distribution

Found throughout the state

Status: none

Tracks

Shrew Tracks

Shrew tracks are tiny and barely show up. Look for them in mud, fine sand or dirt.

Prints will have tiny, 5-toed feet (.2 to .5 inches in length). The hind feet are longer and may overlap the foreprints. The tail may drag through the center of the tracks.

Water Shrew
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Water Shrew
(Sorex palustris)

Identifying characteristics: a large mouse-like body with a pointed snout, tiny black eyes, and barely visible ears. Their velvety fur ranges from gray to black, with lighter colored underparts. Summer may bring a slight brownish tint to the fur. The tail is long, almost half of the total body length, and is bi-colored: dark on top and lighter underneath. The sides of the feet are lined with stiff hairs (presumably to aid in swimming). Their hind feed are much larger than their forefeet.

Size: a large shrew, 5 to 6.5 inches in length (including its long tail) and weighs about .5 oz. Males are larger than females.

Habitat: forests, with close proximity to water. Streams lined with rocks and grasses are preferred.

Food: omnivorous. Aquatic insects and their larvae. On land they will feed on terrestrial insects, worms, snails and some plant and fungi matter.
Vocalization: chirps and squeaks. They are believed to use echolocation (similar to bats) to navigate and explore objects.

Predators: owls, hawks, freshwater fish, foxes, snakes, coyotes, weasels, skunks, domestic cats, short-tailed shrews. They will secrete a foul smelling substance to deter predators.

Reproduction: Litter size average 6, with two to three litters a year. The young will stay with the mother for about 20 days. Mating season is from December through September

Other Info.: They are active both day and night. They are solitary and likely to attack others that intrude on their territory. It can dive in water, staying submerged for nearly a minute, to forage for aquatic insects. It has also been observed running short distances on the surface of the water.



Distribution

Distribution

Found in eastern NY

Status: none

 

Tracks

Shrew Tracks

Shrew tracks are tiny and barely show up. Look for them in mud, fine sand or dirt.

Prints will have tiny, 5-toed feet (.2 to .5 inches in length). The hind feet are longer and may overlap the foreprints. The tail may drag through the center of the tracks.

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