Alpine shrew (Sorex alpinus)

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Alpine shrew fact file

Alpine shrew description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderEulipotyphla
FamilySoricidae
GenusSorex (1)

A small, secretive, mouse-like species, the alpine shrew (Sorex alpinus) is slender-bodied and short-legged, with conspicuous whiskers and a characteristically long, pointed, highly manoeuvrable snout (3) (4). Slightly larger than the common shrew (Sorex araneus), the alpine shrew has the longest tail of all European shrew species, measuring almost the same size as the length of the head and body combined (2) (5) (6).

The short, sleek fur of the alpine shrew is uniformly slate-grey or greyish-black on the upperparts, and is generally slightly lighter, or sometimes white, on the underparts (2). The whiskers are long and white, and the snout and feet are fleshy pink. A pale white ring is often visible around the small eyes (6). The tail is generally pinkish-brown, and is hairy in juveniles but hairless in the adult (4). Young and female alpine shrews may sometimes have a white tip to the tail (6). The teeth of the alpine shrew are coloured brown to purplish at the ends, which is caused by the high content of iron (3) (4).

French
Musaraigne Alpine.
Spanish
Musaraña Alpina.
Size
Head-body length: 6 - 7.5 cm (2)
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Alpine shrew biology

An active, opportunistic species, the alpine shrew consumes a large amount of food given its small size. It feeds on a variety of small insects, arthropods and molluscs, which it captures as it forages on the ground in leaf litter and under vegetation (1) (3) (4). The alpine shrew is also likely to practice a method of feeding known as ‘refection’, whereby an individual re-ingests excreted food (3).

The alpine shrew does not go into hibernation in the winter, instead exhibiting periods of deep sleep interspersed by bursts of extreme activity during its waking hours. It moves by rapidly darting over the ground, or it may travel through tunnels under the ground or burrow through snow. The alpine shrew generally lives alone, and individuals are usually highly aggressive towards other members of this species (3) (4)

Breeding is not particularly well documented for the alpine shrew. In northern temperate zones, such as the mountains of Central Europe, most shrews appear to breed between March and November (4). The nest is made from a ball of grass and other vegetation, and is usually placed in a chamber underground (3) (4). Gestation length for species in the genus Sorex is thought to last between 18 and 28 days, with litter size usually averaging around 4 to 7 young, but varying from 2 to 12 (4). Young shrews often exhibit a behaviour known as ‘caravanning’, in which the juveniles follow the female one after another in a long line, holding onto the rear of the shrew in front by the teeth (3) (4).  

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Alpine shrew range

The alpine shrew occurs in the mountains of Central Europe, including the Alps, the Balkans and the Carpathians, as well as a number of isolated mountains in Germany, Czech Republic and Poland (1) (2) (5) (7). This species was previously recorded from the Pyrenees, but the subpopulation there is now considered extinct (1).

The alpine shrew is distributed between elevations of 200 and 2,500 metres (1) (5) (8).

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Alpine shrew habitat

In the mountainous areas of its range, the alpine shrew is found on the banks of mountain streams and in open habitats, such as meadows and rocky areas with sparse vegetation. It also occurs is montane coniferous forest, close to water (1) (2).

Generally, the alpine shrew lives in cracks and crevices, under rocks and in stone walls. At lower elevations, it typically occurs in damp, cool, shaded areas, including mossy rocks, tree-roots and under logs (1). This species is more strictly montane in the southernmost parts of its range than it is in the north (2).

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Alpine shrew status

The alpine shrew is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened

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Alpine shrew threats

The alpine shrew is a fairly widespread species in the mountains of Central Europe, with a generally stable population. However, in some parts of its range, particularly where there are small, isolated populations, this species’ range appears to be in decline. Isolated subpopulations are inherently vulnerable to extinction, as seen by the loss of alpine shrew populations from the Pyrenees Mountains (1).

The primary threats to the alpine shrew are the loss of alpine water courses due to hydroelectric power developments and the removal of water for other uses, and habitat loss owing to the intensification of winter tourism (1). Loss of habitat through conversion to agricultural land, logging for timber, clearance for fuel wood or charcoal, or burning of the undergrowth to encourage better grazing for livestock is also likely to have a considerable impact on alpine shrew populations (2).

Climate change is also likely to pose an indirect threat to this species in future, as changes in local environmental conditions may lead to range shifts in other species which directly compete with the alpine shrew for food, space and resources (1).

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Alpine shrew conservation

The alpine shrew is listed on Appendix III of the Bern Convention, which aims to protect wild European flora and fauna and their natural habitats. In the Carpathians, a large part of the alpine shrew’s range is covered by the Carpathians Reserve and National Park, affording some level of protection to subpopulations within this region (1).

The general ecology of the alpine shrew is poorly known, and there is a need for increased monitoring and research into the status, distribution and biology of this species, particularly in isolated subpopulations. Further study on the potential threats to this species would also be beneficial (1).

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Find out more

Find out more about the conservation of shrews:

  • Stone, D.R. (1996) Eurasian Insectivores and Tree Shrews: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Insectivore, Tree Shrew and Elephant Shrew Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/1995-059.pdf
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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Arthropods
A very diverse phylum (a major grouping of animals) that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton).
Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Gestation
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Hibernation
A winter survival strategy characteristic of some mammals in which an animal’s metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. Whilst hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer.
Molluscs
: a diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
Montane
Of mountains, or growing in mountains.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Stone, D.R. (1996) Eurasian Insectivores and Tree Shrews: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Insectivore, Tree Shrew and Elephant Shrew Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/1995-059.pdf
  3. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London
  5. Nae, I. (2010) New report of Sorex alpinus Schinz, 1837 (Mammalia: Insectivora) from Piatra Craiului Mountains (Romania). Travaux de l'Institut de Speologie Emile Racovitza, 49:179-183.
  6. Hutterer, R. (1982) Biologische und morphologische Beobachtungen an Alpenspitzmäusen (Sorex alpinus). Bonner Zoologische Beiträge, 33:3-18.
  7. Wilson, D.E. and Reeder, D.M. (2005) Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  8. Baláž, I. and Ambros, M. (2007) Distribution of Soricidae in Slovakia and their dependency on altitude gradient. Acta Zoologica Universitatis Comenianae, 47(1): 91-98.
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Alpine shrew eating cricket  
Alpine shrew eating cricket

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