Whitaker's shrew (Crocidura whitakeri)
|Size||Head-body length: 6 – 10 cm (3)|
Tail length: 2.8 – 8 cm (3)
|Weight||3 – 5 g (2)|
Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Species of the Crocidura genus are more commonly called ‘white-toothed shrews’, a name that distinguishes them from the closely related red-toothed shrews, whose teeth are coloured by iron deposits (2). Very little is known about Whittaker’s shrew, but Crocidura shrews generally have short, smooth, thick fur and a long, bristly tail (3). The colouration of Whittaker’s shrew is said to be similar to the lesser white-toothed shrew (Crocidura suaveolens), which has brownish-grey fur on the back, a white belly and white legs (4).
Whittaker’s shrewcan be found across North Africa, in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt, the Spanish Northern African Territories of Ceuta and Melilla, and possibly also in Western Sahara and Libya. It is distributed over a large altitudinal range, from sea level to up to 1,800 metres (1).
This shrew inhabits dry and rocky areas with little plant life, as well as coastal sand dunes, where it takes shelter in the burrows of rodents or among rocks (1).
Although there is little information available on the biology of Whittaker’s shrew, it is likely to be similar to be other Crocidura species. Crocidura shrews typically give birth to litters containing between one and ten young, which weigh just one gram each at birth. The young are hairless for their first week of life, and do not open their eyes until 13 days old, but are weaned after about 20 days and are sexually mature after just two to three months (5). If shrew families have to move before the young are fully grown they do so by ‘caravanning’; the immature shrews form a line behind the mother, with each one holding onto the hind end of the one in front with its teeth. The grip between individuals in the chain is so strong that if the mother is lifted off the ground then all of the family are lifted up too (2) (5).
Possessing an extremely high metabolism, shrews have to feed every two to three hours to meet the demands of this high energy requirement, and often eat more than their body weight in food every day (6). The diet of Crocidura shrews typically consists of invertebrates, frogs, toads and lizards, and the bodies of recently killed animals (5). Another consequence of a shrew’s high metabolism and resultant active lifestyle is a rather short life span (2); shrews rarely live longer than a year, making them the shortest lived mammals in the world (6).
The excessive use of pesticides to control locusts may be affecting Whittaker’s shrew, either by reducing the availability of its insect prey, or by poisoning the shrew when it ingests insects containing the chemicals (1). However, this threat is not believed to be placing the species at risk of extinction at present (1).
There are no specific conservation plans in place for Whittaker’s shrew (1).
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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.
- Invertebrates: animals with no backbone, such as insects, worms, and spiders.
- Metabolism: the total of all the chemical reactions that take place in an organism, in order to produce energy and the basic materials needed for important life processes. The speed at which an organism carries out these processes is called its metabolic rate.
IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
- Feldhamer, G.A., Drickamer, L.C., Vessey, S.H., Merritt, J.F. and Krajewski, C. (2007) Mammalogy: Adaptation, Diversity, Ecology. Third Edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
- Osborn, D.J. and Helmy, I. (1980) The contemporary land animals of Egypt (including Sinai) Fieldiana Zoology, 5: 1-579.
- Hoath, R. (2009) A Field Guide to Mammals in Egypt. American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.
- Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
- Carwadine, M. (2007) Animal Records. Natural History Museum, London.