Egyptian pygmy shrew (Crocidura religiosa)

GenusCrocidura (1)
SizeHead-body length: 5.4 cm (2)
Tail length: 3.5 cm (2)

Classified as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List (1). 

The smallest species of shrew in Egypt (2), the Egyptian pygmy shrew has grey fur, tinged with brown on the upperparts and tipped with white on the paler underparts (2). The bristly tail is grey on top and white below, and the feet are whitish and almost hairless (3). It has small eyes and a pointed snout (2), and a slightly flattened head which, along with its paler overall colour and proportionately longer tail, distinguishes this species from other shrews found in Egypt (2) (4).

The Egyptian pygmy shrew gained its scientific name, religiosa, because the species was first described from embalmed specimens from ancient Egyptian tombs in Thebes (5). For some time it was thought that the Egyptian pygmy shrew was the same species as the wider-ranging Somali dwarf shrew (Crocidura nana), but upon careful examination it was found that the Egyptian pygmy shrew is in fact a smaller, separate species (5). This confusion has led to many authors classing the two species as one. This shrew is also easily overlooked and very difficult to trap because of its extremely small size, meaning it is very hard to locate and study (4); consequently, not much is known about this species.

The Egyptian pygmy shrew is endemic to Egypt, and can only be found in the Nile Delta and possibly the Nile Valley (2).

The Egyptian pygmy shrew lives mainly in arable land, where it may be found under stones, bricks, and clumps of earth in moist, cultivated fields. It has also been observed in canal banks, dry wells, and under piles of grass, cotton and corn (2).

Shrews, which have incredibly fast metabolisms and voracious appetites, feed mainly on insects and insect larvae, making them valuable species in agricultural areas (3). Like some other species in this genus, it is likely that the Egyptian pygmy shrew lives a largely solitary life and maintains a territory (3).

Musk shrews (Crocidura species) typically have litters of between one and ten young, each weighing around one gram. Born hairless, the young are generally fully haired by 16 days of age, open their eyes at 13 days and are weaned by 20 days (3) (6). Crocidura species display ‘caravanning’ behaviour; if the nest is disturbed the female will lead her young to another site, with the young following the female in a line, each using their teeth to hold the back end of the one in front (3) (7). Musk shrews are usually sexually mature by two to three months (3), and typically live to 12 to 18 months of age (2).   

As very little is known about the Egyptian pygmy shrew, there is little information on what may be affecting it. Possible threats could include the construction of the Aswan Dam, which would have modified the shrew’s natural habitat (1).

There are currently no conservation actions in place to protect the little-known Egyptian pygmy shrew. Further studies on its ecology, range and threats would help improve understanding of this diminutive species (1).

Checked (24/08/10) by Dr Francis Gilbert, Associate Professor, University of Nottingham.

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
  2. Helmy, I. and Osborn, D. (1980) The contemporary land mammals of Egypt (including Sinai). Fieldiana Zoology, 5: 1-579.
  3. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  4. Hoath, R. (2003) A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. American University Cairo Press, Egypt.
  5. Wilson, D.E and Reeder, D.M. (2005) Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  6. Innes, D.G.L. (1994) Life histories of the Soricidae: a review. In: Merritt, J.F., Kirkland, G.L. and Rose, R.K. (Eds.) Advances in the Biology of Shrews. Special Publication No. 18. Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh.
  7. Churchfield, S. (1988) Shrews of the British Isles. Shire Natural History, Shire Publications, Aylesbury.