I am sure that most everyone has heard of a the shrew. They are commonly mistaken for rodents, and I am not at all surprised. They look like rodents. I remember back when I was working on my Rodent Spotlights. I was all set up to write one up for shrews, and then I found out that they did not belong there. That actually upset me. The reason it really got to me was because I was working on a rodent novel at the time called "Tooth and Tail," and I was planning on adding shrews to the cast. Couldn't do it! Twice, my plans failed because of a scientific conflict of interest. Don't ever let it be said that I don't suffer for my art.
The shrews are actually related to moles, and moles are most certainly not rodents. But if I might be a little impertinent, I think that shrews should have been rodents. They certainly seem close enough, but I guess I don't have much say in such things.
The common shrew can be as big as 3.2 inches from head to tail and weigh as much as 0.4 ounces. They nearly always have velvety dark brown fur with a paler underside. The eyes of the common shrew are very small, but that's okay because it doesn't use them very much. Like moles, they have pointed snouts. Additionally, the common shrew does not live very long. They kick the bucket in only 14 months, but they stay pretty busy in that time.
On that latter note, the common shrew is known for being remarkably active. They never hibernate and stay busy looking for food day and night. So... do they sleep? Not really. I mean... they kind of do. Shrews are capable of entering into a state called torpor. This is a short period where the shrew simply shuts down many of its body's functions so that it can get a short burst of rest. It's a lot like meditation. After the torpor ends, the shrew will dash back into a state of high activity. It will go back and forth like this throughout the day and night. This is a very good thing since it will be dead in 14 months.
The common shrew is carnivorous--pretty viciously too. They love eating many insects, but they will most certainly go after rodents like small mice or other large creatures like frogs. They go into it quite violently too. They have no choice. The shrew needs to consume 300% of its body weight every single day!
The common shrew is super territorial. They pick a spot and will defend it with whatever violence is necessary. During breeding season--from April to September--the shrew will expand its territory until a mate is found. If you are a little mouse in the area during this period, you will die. When shrews do territory expansion, it is always a violent affair because they do not have time to be nice. They are not voles; they will kill you! (If you're a mouse, of course.) Anyways, the babies will be born in 25 days with a litter of 5 to 7, and it will be another 25 days before the little ones are allowed to be independent. A female will usually raise 2 to 4 litters every year, and what is cute is that the children will follow their mother in a single file line while holding onto each other's tail.
Shrews pop up in fiction all the time, but I'm going to keep it down to just a few. In one of the best animated films ever made, "The Secret of NIMH," there was a rather grumpy shrew character known only as Auntie Shrew. You know, I really loved her. It was obvious that she cared deeply for Miss Brisby and her family, but she refused to admit to it. She was grumpy and preferred to be seen that way. Simply, a fun character.
There was an army of shrews shown briefly in the 1977 movie "The Mouse and his Child." However, let's talk more about the book by Russell Hoban since the movie did not really go as deep. The army of shrews were currently expanding their territory, and the plan was everything or nothing. They were serious, these shrews! What really felt like a more docile story up to that point turned into a bloodbath. One amusing aspect of their armies were that they forced a group of mice into their ranks of which they called their "Ration Patrol." They would fight for their lives, and if the shrews ran out of food, they would eat the mice! Very grizzly, but also very effective.
In a book series I mention a lot in these blogs--that being the "Welkin Weasel" books by Gary Kilworth--Shrews were depicted as ne'er-do-wells that selfishly caused trouble to anyone they could. The fun thing about them happened when they were caught. They would always run away while making a long line of goofy threats. They were very vengeful and hated anyone who tried to mess up their fun. I loved how shameless they were.
I'm a little conflicted on my own feelings for shrews. I loved all three of the above examples. When I was going to incorporate them into my book, the plan was going to be a bit more like the war-making type seen in "The Mouse and his Child." I like them militant! I want them to go out and make a bloody mess! Violence, violence, and more violence! I think they would make a very difficult force to fight off. The shrew is just so hardwired to keep moving. They don't take many breaks! Can you imagine fighting a force who never sleeps? Just be glad that you don't have to.
That's why I love shrews. I love how they hit the ground running in life. Nothing stands in their way. It's do or die! I love them as a villainous force, and I would enjoy seeing how a battle would go with them. Bring it on!
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|Shrew Army from "The Mouse and his Child"|
|Orgibucket the Shrew from "Welkin Weasels: Gaslight Geezers"|