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Shrew Defense Mechanism

3-8-13 coyote digging up shrewIMG_5320Coyote tracks led to a hole dug in the snow, with the body of a shrew lying on top of the snow next to the hole. Apparently a coyote had succeeded in catching the prey it had heard, but upon smelling this tiny insectivore, the coyote decided it wasn’t that hungry. In addition to having poisonous saliva that immobilizes small prey, shrews possess two glands on their sides that emit an unpleasant odor, detectable even by human noses. Although this odor did discourage the coyote from eating the shrew, it wasn’t enough to save its life.

7 responses

  1. From research for my own newspaper wildlife columns, masked shrews have an incredible heart-rate (and why their metabolism is so ferocious – they have, I think, to eat about eight times their weight daily). Why serious shock (like being pounced upon), and their heart exclaims, oh my! And stops. My little half wild barn cat used to leave me a shrew on the doorstep whenever I might happen to be ill, always untouched, and so……..I had to find out WHY really. Their venom, by the way, is being researched by an Eastern provinces scientist as a type of potential painkiller, as sort of alternative ‘Botox’ – true story!

    March 8, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    • Very interesting, Pam. Thanks so much for sharing this information.

      March 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    • Ann H.

      do you happen to know if shrews “play dead” as a defense mechanism? I encountered three shrews on a walk today, the first of which was most certainly dead. The other two were a bit farther along the trail and didn’t appear to have any injuries, but were giving a very good impression of being dead. My dog,surprisingly, walked right past without so much as a sniff. Just curious!

      August 14, 2013 at 6:55 pm

      • Hi Ann,
        I haven’t ever heard of or read about a shrew playing dead. I do know that because of their toxic saliva, a number of predators don’t eat them. I can’t explain finding three in one spot, however!

        August 14, 2013 at 7:04 pm

      • I was cleaning up around my aeroplane at North Weald on Thursday last and moved a large wooden wheel choc, under it was a tiny shrew lying on its back with its feet in the air, I thought I had caught it with the choc, as I stood looking at it and feeling guilty it opened one eye, took stock of the surroundings then went off like greased lightning, hence my trip to this page

        July 29, 2017 at 5:24 am

      • Love it!

        July 29, 2017 at 10:02 am

  2. Marcus - Scotland

    Yes they do. My cat regularly brings shrews indoors and are for all intents and purposes dead in the kitchen floor after a few moments they will start to move again, usually as I am about to dispose of them….. I just return them back to the wild.

    February 7, 2014 at 8:49 pm

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