Savi’s pygmy shrew (Suncus etruscus)
|Also known as:||Etruscan shrew, pygmy white-toothed shrew, white-toothed pygmy shrew|
|Size||Length: 6.2 – 8.1 cm (2)|
Tail: 2.1 – 3.2 cm (2)
|Weight||1.5 – 2 g (2)|
Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
The smallest land mammal in the world (3), Savi’s pygmy shrew has greyish-brown, velvety fur tinged with red on the upper side of its body, and greyish-white fur on the underside (2). It has relatively large ears and a long tail that is dark brown on the top, becoming paler towards the underside (2). The long, pointed snout of this diminutive mammal projects beyond the bottom lip (4).
This widespread species has been found throughout southern Europe, primarily in the Mediterranean lowlands (5), and also in northern Africa, as far south as Ethiopia and Madagascar (2).
Savi’s pygmy shrew is found in a variety of habitats including farmland, gardens, and olive groves (2), often along old walls and buildings (2).
The shrews in the genus Suncus are often called musk shrews, owing to the scent glands of the males which secrete a strong, musky odour (6). Shrews are largely solitary and territorial animals and males use these musky secretions to mark their territory (6) (7). An exception to this solitary existence is during the breeding season, when the shrews form monogamous pairs (6). The gestation period lasts 17 to 32 days and litters of 4 to 6 young are normal (8). During gestation, the pregnant female remains inside a nest within a burrow (6).
Savi’s pygmy shrew, like all shrews, is a voracious, opportunistic feeder, consuming mainly insects, but will also feed on meat, bread and other human food items when available (6) (8). It has an exceptional metabolism, with a heartbeat of over a thousand beats per minute (8); this incredibly high metabolic rate means it cannot survive for more than a few hours without food (4). To satisfy their high energy requirements, shrews can consume as much as 1.3 times their body weight in a single day (3).
Savi’s pygmy shrew is a widely distributed species and is not currently considered to be threatened (1).
All members of the family Soricidae are listed under Appendix III of the Bern Convention, also known as the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, which means that any exploitation of this species must be regulated (1). Except for this listing, there are no conservation measures currently known to be in place for this small, but remarkable, species.
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- 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.
- Metabolic rate: the speed at which an animal uses energy.
- Monogamous: having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
- Hoath, R. (2009) A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, Egypt.
- Carwardine, M. (2008) Animal Records. Sterling Publishing Company, New York.
- Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press, London.
- Stone, D.R. (1995) Eurasian Insectivores and Tree Shrews: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Cambridge.
- Nowak, R.M. (1999) Mammals of the World. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
- Apps, P. (2000) Wild Ways: Field Guide to the Behaviour of Southern African Mammals. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa.
- Macdonald, D.W. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.