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Lesser white-toothed (or Scilly) shrew

Lesser white-toothed shrews are only found on the Isles of Scilly, Jersey and Sark. As their name suggests, they have white teeth instead of the red-tipped ones of other shrews. They have light grey-brown fur, large ears and bristly hairs interspersed with long, white ones, covering their tail. They have adapted to life on the seashore, feeding on small crustaceans on the beach at low tide, as well as small invertebrates in the soil. Tunnels are made through the leaf litter and they are often active under logs and heaps of brushwood or stone. They emit a soft, continuous twittering while foraging or exploring, but produce a sharp squeak if threatened or alarmed. Lesser white-toothed shrews are more social than other shrew species and several adults will often share the same nest.

It is likely that lesser white-toothed shrews were introduced to Britain by Iron Age traders from France or northern Spain.

Head-body length: 5 – 8cm
Tail length: 2.5 – 5.5cm
Weight: 3.5 – 7g; up to 10g in the breeding season
Lifespan: 12 – 18 months in the wild; few live through a second winter

Reproduction

Mating occurs from March to September and 2 – 4 litters of up to five pups (fewer than litters of other shrew species) are born after a gestation of 24 – 32 days. Some offspring breed later in the same calendar year, but most do not reach sexual maturity until the following spring.

Diet

Soil invertebrates such as earthworms and beetles, and small crustaceans such as sandhoppers.

Habitat

Tall vegetation including bracken and in hedgebanks, as well as sand dunes, scrub and boulders of coastal areas. They nest under logs, between boulders or in abandoned mouse burrows.

Predators

Barn owls, kestrels, domestic cats, stoats and weasels.

Threats

No significant threats.

Status & conservation

Non-native and localised. The trapping and killing of shrews requires a licence.

Population size and distribution

40,000 – 99,000. The population trend is unknown. They occur on the islands of Scilly, Jersey and Sark (Channel Islands), Sein, Ouessant and Yeu.

Did you know?

During their first few outings from the nest, young Scilly shrews will use their mouth to grip the tail of the sibling in front, forming a caravan procession behind their mother. This helps the mother to keep her large charge together while searching for food.

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