|MAMMALS OF THE BALTIMORE-WASHINGTON DC AREA
Least Shrew (Cryptotis parva)
The Least Shrew is found throughout the Baltimore-Washington area. Like all of our shrews, they are very secretive
animals, tunneling underground and making runways on the surface of the soil underneath leaf litter and under grass
or other plants. They eat insects, earthworms, and other invertebrates, but also include seeds in their diet.
The Least Shrew can be distinguished from most of our other shrews by its very short tail and brownish color. The
only other shrew in our area that has a short-tail, the Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda), is larger in size (an adult
is 3 to 5 inches in length) and generally a slate grey color. Dentition might be needed to distinguish a young adult
Short-tailed Shrew from a Least Shrew. Since these are nervous animals that seem to often die from the stress of
handling, it is probably best not to handle a live shrew to check the dentition. If you have a dead specimen (or a skull),
the least shrew can be identified by the presence of 4 upper unicuspids (the fourth one is smaller and somewhat
hidden), while the Short-tailed Shrew has 5 upper unicuspid teeth.
Like many other shrews, the Least Shrew is reported to use echolocation for navigation. Like bats, many shrews make
noises which they use to navigate and to locate prey.
Least Shrews are unusual among the shrews in that they are reportedly social, often living in colonies of two dozen or
In January (2015) we heard a mouse in the house under the kitchen sink. Or so we thought. This happens from time to time and
we chase the mouse away and seal his entrance. This time the entrance appears to be under the house where the water pipes
come in, so it is not so easy to seal.
I got a live trap from Home Depot, put some peanut butter in it, and set it where the "mouse" was. The "mouse" was able to
escape from trap before we checked it and we ended up giving the "mouse" a couple of free meals of peanut butter. So, I
ordered a Hav-A-Heart Trap on Amazon.com. Again baited with peanut butter. I checked the trap 2X a day to make sure no one
got trapped and was left to starve or die of thirst. No mouse for about a week. Then one morning this week the trap was closed.
I couldn't believe what was inside!
It was not a mouse at all, but a shrew!
From the small size (less than 2 1/2 inches in length), the short tail, and the brownish grey fur with a white belly, it appeared to
be a Least Shrew (although I would not rule out the possibility that this is a young Northern Short-tailed Shrew).