Monday, October 15, 2007


Took a walk along the Thames today, for about 3 hours. Fantastic warm, sunny weather. As I'm learning a lot about fungi at the moment, I thought I'd branch out and post a few photos of berries too, as I'm pretty poor at identifying them also. There seem to be plenty out at the moment, and I'll deal with them in the posts above.

The sun was warm enough today to spark off a few male Common Darters (small red dragonflies) in their hunting flights, and I also saw four young Great Crested Grebe (very late?!) and this dead shrew.

We were talking about shrews at the weekend.
Shrews are very interesting little creatures.

- They taste foul to most predators, which will play with them, possibly kill them, but not eat them.

- They are NOT rodents (like mice and rats) because they have five clawed toes on each foot like moles and hedgehogs. Rodents have four.

- They have a ridiculously high metabolic rate, and heartbeat, meaning they have to eat between 80 and 90% of their body weight each day.

- Shrews do not hibernate.

- Shrews are unusual amongst mammals in that some species are venomous and some (including our own Common Shrew (pictured below in my photo), utilise echolocation (like bats) to investigate their surroundings.

- Shrews are very afraid of loud noises. Shout at one and it will keel over from a heart attack. This was widely believed to be a country legend, as people found shrews by the side of the roads constantly and thought the traffic noise killed them. That was pooh-pooed by many people suggesting that the only reason Shrews were found and not mice, was that Shrews taste bad. That still doesn't explain why shrews were found by the sides of roads though. I guarantee you, if you play some AC/DC to a shrew, it WILL die of a heart attack!

- Shrews hold 10% of their body mass in the brain. VERY high for mammals.

Many moons ago I carried out a Shrew population survey in a local wood, for a wildlife trust.
I didn't use live traps. I caught them with my bare hands!
This is easier than it sounds. Shrews (because of their voracious appetite), need to forage pretty well constantly, and they are not quiet about it.
Very quickly, if you are doing this sort of thing a lot - (and lets face it, who doesn't), you get to know what a shrew foraging in the leaf litter sounds like.
Then you jump on it, using your arms in a circle, to prevent its escape.

(NB. At this point, I should mention, that as you fling yourself onto the woodland floor with your arms in a circle, to catch your shrew, you'd best not give a war-cry or howl, or any loud noise really - or as I've described before, you'll get your shrew, but it will be a very dead shrew).
Once you have your Shrew, you pick it up by the scruff of the neck and trim its behind with a pair of nail scissors.
You then release it and see if you catch it again...

Any culture vultures out there?
Shrew in Old English, meant a woman with a scolding, nagging tongue.
That's what Shakespeare meant by "Taming of the Shrew".

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