Northern short-tailed shrews, with their short legs, minute eyes and concealed ears, can be found throughout eastern and central U.S. Their eyesight is so poor that all they can do is to detect light, but they compensate by using echolocation for navigation and to locate earthworms, slugs, snails and other invertebrates which comprise their diet. The northern short-tailed shrew and the European water shrew are the only mammals that produce a toxic secretion in their salivary glands. This poison is powerful enough to kill small mammals, but is mainly used to immobilize smaller prey. In winter, although active, the short-tailed shrew limits its activity in order to conserve energy, and relies partially on food that it stored in its burrow in the fall.
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Coyote 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.