The pygmy shrew is one of Ireland's smallest mammals, weighing 6g, the same as a 50cent coin. It has brown fur on its back but lighter fur on its belly and a long, thick hairy tail. It has a narrow-pointed snout, small eyes, and its teeth are red-tipped from small amounts of iron in the enamel.
The pygmy shrew has been in Ireland about 9,000 years and was probably accidentally introduced by Mesolithic man. One of its Irish name is Dallóg fhraoigh, which means 'blind animal of the heather’. It is protected by law but is now struggling to survive because of competition from the greater white-toothed shrew that was discovered in 2007 and which was also accidentally brought into Ireland.
Where it lives
Due to its small size the pygmy shrew lives in habitats that provide it with shelter from predators so it is found in hedgerows, grasslands, woodlands and peatlands. It spends half of its time over ground and half underground, although it does not make its own burrows but uses those of other small mammals. It makes nests of dried grass, usually under logs, rocks and in dense hedgerows. Female shrews can give birth to three litters between April and October but most shrews live less than two years.
What it eats
Due its small size the pygmy shrew needs to eat up to 250 food items over a 24 hour period, so it is hunts by day and night looking for spiders, insect larvae, beetles and woodlice, only resting for short periods. Despite its small size the pygmy shrew is a remarkable predator and 31 different prey items have been identified in an Irish dietary study. This little mammal is, however, only able to attack prey less than 10mm long.
Massive thanks to our friend's at Vincent Wildlife Trust for all this material.
Make sure to check out their website to learn more about the pygmy shrew and the conservation work being done to protect the pygmy shrew and a host of other native mammals.