Southern short-tailed shrew (Blarina carolinensis)

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Southern short-tailed shrew eating an earthworm
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST
CONCERN

Top facts

  • The southern short-tailed shrew subdues its invertebrate or small mammal prey using toxic saliva secreted by specially modified salivary glands.
  • The southern short-tailed shrew’s toxic saliva can paralyse and kill prey the size of a mouse within three to five minutes.
  • Shrews, such as the southern short-tailed shrew, have the highest metabolic rates of any mammals in North America, with a pulse rate of about 700 beats per minute.
  • Not surprisingly, the southern short-tailed shrew is named for its very short tail, which is hairy and slightly flattened.
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Southern short-tailed shrew fact file

Southern short-tailed shrew description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderEulipotyphla
FamilySoricidae
GenusBlarina (1)

Despite being the smallest of the three species within the Blarina genus (3) (5), the southern short-tailed shrew (Blarina carolinensis) is still a relatively large, robust shrew (3) (5) (6) with a stocky body (4) and short legs (5).

This species’ scientific name, carolinensis, means ‘belonging to Carolina’, and refers to the area in the United States where a specimen was first collected (5). Not surprisingly, the southern short-tailed shrew gets its common name from its very short tail (3) (4) (5), which is hairy, slightly flattened (5) and usually measures less than one-third of the animal’s total length (4).

The southern short-tailed shrew has a long, pointed snout (3) (4) (5) (7) which is well furred and is punctuated by long, white whiskers (5). The eyes and ears of this species are very small (3) (4) (5) (6) (7), and the ears are hidden from view by fur (3) (4) (7). The southern short-tailed shrew has five digits on its fairly robust feet, which end in sharp, slightly curved claws (5). Its teeth are reported to be tipped with a dark chestnut-brown colour (4). A characteristic unique to short-tailed shrews is the presence of a pair of glands on the flanks and rump which secrete a strong odour to repel potential predators (7).

The fur of the southern short-tailed shrew is short, dense, and velvety in texture (4) (7), and varies in colour between individuals, ranging from slate-grey (4) (5) (6) to brownish-grey (3) (4). Although the fur is mostly uniform in colour, it is generally slightly darker on the upperparts than on the belly (3) (4) (5) (6) (7). Male and female southern short-tailed shrews are similar in appearance (2).

Four subspecies of the southern short-tailed shrew are currently recognised: Blarina carolinensis carolinensis, Blarina carolinensis minima, Blarina carolinensis peninsulae and Blarina carolinensis shermani (5). However, there is a possibility that B. c. peninsulae is, in fact, a distinct species (5) (8), and it is thought that B. c. shermani is likely to be extinct (8).
 

Also known as
Carolina shrew.
Synonyms
Blarina brevicauda carolinensis, Sorex carolinensis.
Size
Total length: 7.2 - 12.3 cm (2) (3)
Average length: 9 cm (2)
Tail length: 1.4 - 2.7 cm (3)
Weight
5 - 15 g (3) (4)
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Southern short-tailed shrew biology

A primarily nocturnal species (2) (4) (7), the southern short-tailed shrew is rarely seen during daylight hours except on cloudy, overcast days (7). This highly active species (2) has a poor sense of smell and extremely poor eyesight, and so relies mostly on its acute hearing and highly developed sense of touch to navigate, avoid predators and seek out prey (4).

The southern short-tailed shrew builds runways under leaf litter or within loose soil, and also uses the burrows and runways of other small mammals (4) (7). Within its runway system, this species creates shallow nests for resting, and although the southern short-tailed shrew is usually a solitary species (4), multiple individuals may make use of a common burrow system (1) (4). Larger nests for rearing young are often located under rotting vegetation such as logs and stumps (1) (4) (5) (7), or in a deeper burrow system which may be more than 30 centimetres below the soil surface (4) (5). These larger nests can be between 10 and 20 centimetres in diameter (4) (7), and are made of shredded grass, roots, leaves and other plant fibres (4) (5) (7).

Shrews have the highest metabolic rates of any North American mammals, with a pulse rate of about 700 beats per minute (7). Although some reports suggest that the southern short-tailed shrew needs to eat its own body weight in food each day (4) (7), more recent studies have shown that it requires less than half that (4). However, the southern short-tailed shrew still has a voracious appetite (4), and is constantly on the prowl for food when active (7).

Insects make up about 92 percent of the southern short-tailed shrew’s diet (9), but this species also eats other invertebrates including worms, snails, slugs, spiders and centipedes (2) (3) (4) (5) (7). Live snails are often collected and stashed away in a burrow as a food supply for the winter (1) (4). In addition, the southern short-tailed shrew eats fungi and plant material (1) (3) (5) (9), such as nuts and berries (4), and has been reported to feed on turtle eggs in Florida (5). Interestingly, this species is also known to eat small vertebrates (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (7), which it subdues using toxic saliva secreted by specially modified salivary glands (3) (4). This saliva is capable of paralysing and killing prey the size of a mouse within three to five minutes (7).

Despite its toxic saliva, the southern short-tailed shrew is still palatable to many predators, including snakes, owls, hawks, foxes and weasels (2) (4) (5) (7). However, as a way of repelling predators, and also as a way of communicating an individual’s breeding status or defending its territory, the southern short-tailed shrew secretes a pungent odour from glands located on its rump and flanks (7).

The timing of breeding in the southern short-tailed shrew varies depending on location (1), but generally lasts from late winter or early spring to late summer (1) (7). In Texas and Arkansas, it is known to start as early as February (1) (4), and it is thought that individuals living at lower latitudes may have a longer breeding season (5). Reproductive peaks are often seen in spring (3) and late summer (3) (7).

After a gestation period of 21 to 30 days (1) (4) (7), the female southern short-tailed shrew gives birth to a litter of between 3 and 10 young (4) (7), with the average litter size being 5 to 7 young (1) (4). It has been noted that smaller litters tend to be produced between March and July, and larger litters between September and November (5). Female southern short-tailed shrews can produce three or more litters per year (1) (3) (4) (7). The young shrews leave the nest after three or four weeks (4) (7), and become mature at about three months of age (4). The southern short-tailed shrew is thought to have a maximum lifespan of two years (1) (7).

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Southern short-tailed shrew range

The southern short-tailed shrew is endemic to the United States (1), where it occurs throughout many of the south-eastern and south-central states (3).This species occurs from coastal and south-central Virginia across to southern Illinois, and southward to eastern Texas and southern Florida (1) (3) (5) (8).

The four subspecies of the southern short-tailed shrew are all found in different parts of this range (5).

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Southern short-tailed shrew habitat

The southern short-tailed shrew is considered to be a habitat generalist (3) as it can be found in a variety of upland and wetland habitats (1), including moist deciduous forest (1) (4) (8), pine stands (1) (2) (3) (5), brushy areas (1) (4) (5) and marshes (7).

This species has been reported from all forest cover types in its range, except mangrove swamps in Florida (3). The southern short-tailed shrew is most abundant in hardwood forests (3), and is generally found in areas with plentiful logs and a deep layer of leaf litter in which to burrow, shelter and find food (1) (2). Although this species occurs in grasslands, fields and swamps (1) (5) (7), it is less common in these areas than in other habitat types (4). The southern short-tailed shrew has been recorded using a variety of disturbed sites, such as abandoned agricultural fields and strip mines (5).

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Southern short-tailed shrew status

The southern short-tailed shrew is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Southern short-tailed shrew threats

Although some of its subspecies may be relatively rare (3), the southern short-tailed shrew is an abundant, widespread species and is not currently considered to be in decline or at risk of extinction (1). There are no known major threats to this species (1), and it appears to be tolerant of habitat disturbance resulting from forest management activities (3).

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Southern short-tailed shrew conservation

Although the southern short-tailed shrew is not considered to be declining at present, it still receives some protection through its occurrence in protected areas throughout its range (1). This species has been given a global rank of ‘Secure’ (10), which also stands in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia, whereas in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas it is considered to be ‘Apparently Secure’ (3). It is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ in Oklahoma (3).

While the species as a whole has not been allocated a ranking in Florida and South Carolina (3), the subspecies Blarina carolinensis shermani is considered to be a ‘Species of Special Concern’ in Florida. This particular subspecies is not known to occur on any conservation land, and could possibly be extinct. Recommended conservation measures for B. c. shermani, should it still exist, include maintaining natural areas with a mosaic of plant communities, including basin wetlands. Prescribed fires are also considered important in maintaining dense herbaceous cover for the southern short-tailed shrew (6).

Southern short-tailed shrews have been identified as being important components of their ecosystems in terms of controlling insect populations (7) (8). Ensuring the presence of moist conditions that include thick leaf litter and abundant woody debris may encourage higher population densities of this robust shrew (3).

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Find out more

Find out more about the southern short-tailed shrew:

  • Laerm, J., Ford, W.M. and Chapman, B.R. (2007) Southern short-tailed shrew - Blarina carolinensis. In: Trani, M.K., Ford, W.M. and Chapman, B.R. (Eds.) The Land Manager’s Guide to Mammals of the South. The Nature Conservancy, Durham, North Carolina and U.S. Forest Service, Atlanta, Georgia.
  • University of Georgia, Museum of Natural History - Southern short-tailed shrew:
    http://naturalhistory.uga.edu/~GMNH/gawildlife/index.php?page=speciespages/species_page&key=bcarolinensis
  • Sealander, J.A. and Heidt, G.A. (1990) Arkansas Mammals: Their Natural History, Classification, and Distribution. University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
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Glossary

Deciduous forest
Forest consisting mainly of deciduous trees, which shed their leaves at the end of the growing season.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
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.
Gland
An organ that makes and secretes substances used by the body.
Herbaceous
Describes a small, non-woody, seed bearing plant in which all the aerial parts die back at the end of each growing season.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
Metabolic rate
The speed at which an animal uses energy; the amount of energy it expends in a given time.
Nocturnal
Active at night.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Territory
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a group.
Vertebrates
Animals with a backbone, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2013)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: North American Mammals - Southern short-tailed shrew (September, 2013)
    http://www.mnh.si.edu/mna/image_info.cfm?species_id=26
  3. Laerm, J., Ford, W.M. and Chapman, B.R. (2007) Southern short-tailed shrew - Blarina carolinensis. In: Trani, M.K., Ford, W.M. and Chapman, B.R. (Eds.) The Land Manager’s Guide to Mammals of the South. The Nature Conservancy, Durham, North Carolina and U.S. Forest Service, Atlanta, Georgia.
  4. Sealander, J.A. and Heidt, G.A. (1990) Arkansas Mammals: Their Natural History, Classification, and Distribution. University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
  5. McCay, T.S. (2001) Blarina carolinensis. Mammalian Species, 673: 1-7. Available at:
    http://www.science.smith.edu/msi/pdf/673_Blarina_carolinensis.pdf
  6. Florida Natural Areas Inventory (2001) Sherman’s short-tailed shrew. In: Field Guide to the Rare Animals of Florida. Florida Natural Areas Inventory, Tallahassee, Florida. Available at:
    http://www.fnai.org/FieldGuide/pdf/Blarina_carolinensis_shermani.PDF
  7. Universityof Georgia, Museum of Natural History - Southern short-tailed shrew (August, 2013)
    http://naturalhistory.uga.edu/~GMNH/gawildlife/index.php?page=speciespages/species_page&key=bcarolinensis
  8. Whitaker, J.O. and Hamilton, W.J. (1998) Mammals of the Eastern United States. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
  9. Sylvester, T.L., Hoffman, J.D. and Lyons, E.K. (2012) Diet and ectoparasites of the southern short-tailed shrew (Blarina carolinensis) in Louisiana. Western North American Naturalist, 72(4): 586-590.
  10. NatureServe - Blarina carolinensis (August, 2013)
    http://www.natureserve.org/explorer/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=Blarina+carolinensis
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Southern short-tailed shrew eating an earthworm  
Southern short-tailed shrew eating an earthworm

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