Common shrews are one of Britain’s most abundant mammals but they are rarely seen as much of their time is spent beneath the leaf litter or in long vegetation. They have the distinctive narrow pointed snout of shrews and have brown (never black) fur on their back, with a paler, grey underside. The tails of adults tend to be bare and are often scarred. Shrews use a network of runways through the vegetation and dig burrows or use those of other small mammals. They are active during the day and night, although are most active during darkness. One to two hour bursts of activity are followed by periods of rest, usually in the nest but sometimes cat-napping elsewhere. A high-pitched twitter can sometimes be heard while they forage, using their snout and whiskers to probe and sniff the soil to find food. They can locate prey up to 12cm beneath the surface of the soil. They are solitary and aggressively defend their territories.
Head-body length: 6 – 8cm
Tail length: About half the body length
Weight: 5 – 15g
Lifespan: 15 – 18 months; 50% die before 2 months
Mating occurs between April and August. One or two litters of 4 – 8 young are born from May onwards and females may have several litters in a season. The young sometimes caravan behind their mother during trips out of the nest and are weaned by 25 days.
Invertebrates such as earthworms, spiders, slugs, insect larvae and beetles, as well as small vertebrates and carrion.
Woodland, thick grass and hedgerows, particularly road verges and other grassy banks. They make nests under logs and grass tussocks or in the burrows of other species.
Mostly owls and raptors, but also stoats, weasels and foxes. Domestic cats frequently kill shrews but do not eat them.
Habitat loss due to changes in farming practices, agricultural pesticides and pollution.
Status & conservation
Native, widespread and common. The trapping and killing of shrews requires a licence.
Population & distribution
UK population 41,700,000. The population trend is unknown. They are found throughout Britain but are absent from Ireland, Shetland, Orkney, the Outer Hebrides, the Isle of Man, Scilly Isles and Channel Islands.
Did you know?
Their small size means that shrews lose heat quickly, and in order to stay warm they have a high metabolic rate. As a consequence, they must eat nearly their own body weight in food every day and small changes in the availability of prey can threaten their survival.