On a recent walk from Warrens Hall Nature Reserve, up across Dudley Golf Course, and onto the Portway Hill site, Mike Poulton, Matt Hadlington and Tom Hartland-Smith had several interesting sightings. A regular dog walker stopped to tell them that at about 7pm on a previous evening, as he was returning from a walk, up on his neighbour’s roof was an Eagle Owl! Matt said that there had also been a recent Eagle Owl sighting at nearby Sheepwash Lane in Oldbury – it’s likely that these sightings were of the same individual, possibly an escaped pet or falconry bird. And if that wasn’t enough, on the way back to his car, Tom watched a Red Kite fly across. However the group’s first two sightings were of a tiny Common Toad, and a Pygmy Shrew. The toad was very much alive; the shrew was sadly deceased, but this is not unusual for these incredibly tiny mammals as the following information from Mike explains.
Pygmy Shrews are found throughout the UK; their habitat is woods and hedgerows and they can be seen all year round. They are our smallest mammal, up to 55mm from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail. The tail can be up to 45mm long, around three quarters the length of the body (unlike the larger Common Shrew, whose tail is only half the length of it’s body). The average weight is about 4 grams, the same as a one penny coin.
Shrews superficially resemble mice but with a longer, pointed snout, and even when fully grown are only around a quarter of the size of a House Mouse. The thick fur is brown on top and greyish-white below, and grows thicker in the autumn to help maintain body heat during the winter months.
Pygmy Shrews needs to consume food every two hours or so in order to maintain their body temperature. Their diet consists of spiders, beetles, woodlice, slugs and other small invertebrates. Active day and night searching for their next meal, the Pygmy Shrew literally lives its life in the fast lane. This unmarked specimen could have died of starvation because it hadn’t eaten for a few hours!
The breeding season runs from April through to August, and female Pygmy Shrews produce between two and eight young per litter, in an underground nest. The gestation period is a little over three weeks, and a female can produce up to five litters in one year. The life span of this tiny mammal is approximately 15 months.