“Of course Mother Nature knows and yet just the same it is hard for me not to believe that Teeny Weeny is a member of the Mouse family,” said Happy Jack Squirrel to Peter Rabbit, as they scampered along to the next learning session on the edge of the woodlands. “I never have had a real good look at him, just glimpses of him many times and always thought he was a little Mouse with a short tail. It is hard to believe that he isn’t.”
“I hope Mother Nature will put him where we can get a good look at him,” replied Peter. “Perhaps when you really see him he won’t look so much like a Mouse.”
When all had arrived Mother Nature began the morning session at once. “You have learned about all the families in the order of Rodents,” she said, “so now we will take up another and much smaller order called Insectivora. I wonder if any of you can guess what that means.”
“It sounds,” said Peter Rabbit, “as if it must have something to do with insects.”
“That is a very good guess, Peter,” replied Mother Nature, smiling at him. “It does have to do with insects. The members of this order live largely on insects and worms, and the name Insectivora means insect-eating. There are two families in this order, the Shrew family and the Mole family.”
“Then Teeny Weeny the Shrew and Miner the Mole must be related,” Peter quickly spoke-up.
“Right again, Peter,” was Mother Nature’s reply. “The Shrews and the Moles are related in the same way that you and Happy Jack Squirrel are related.”
“And isn’t Teeny Weeny the Shrew related to the Mice at all?” asked Happy Jack.
“Not at all,” said Mother Nature. “Many people think he is and often he is called Shrew Mouse, however this just isn’t so.”
All this time the eyes of every one had been searching this way, that way, every way, for Teeny Weeny the Shrew, for Mother Nature had promised to try to have him there that morning. However, he was not to be seen. Now and then a leaf on the ground close by Mother Nature’s feet moved, and yet the Merry Little Breezes were always stirring up fallen leaves, and so no one paid any attention to these.
Mother Nature understood the disappointment in the faces before her and her eyes began to twinkle. “Yesterday I told you that I would try to have Teeny Weeny the Shrew here,” she said. A leaf moved. Stooping quickly she picked it up. “And here he is,” she finished.
Sure enough where a second before the dead brown leaf had been was a tiny little fellow, so tiny that that leaf had covered him completely, and it wasn’t a very big leaf. It was Teeny Weeny the Shrew, also called the Common Shrew, the Long-tailed Shrew, one of the smallest animals in all the Great World. He started to dart under another leaf and Mother Nature stopped him. “Sit still please,” she requested. “You have nothing to fear. I want everybody to have a good look at you, for it is high time these neighbors of yours get to know you. I know just how nervous and uncomfortable you are and I’ll keep you only a few minutes. Now everybody take a good look at Teeny Weeny the Shrew.”
What they saw was a mite of a fellow less than four inches long from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail, and of this total length the tail was almost half. He was slender, had short legs and mouse-like feet. His coat was brownish above and grayish beneath, and the fur was very fine and soft.
The oddest thing about Teeny Weeny the Shrew was his long, pointed head ending in a long nose. No Mouse has a head like it. The edges of the ears could be seen above the fur, and the eyes were so tiny that Peter Rabbit thought he hadn’t any and said so.
Mother Nature laughed. “Yes, he has eyes, Peter,” she said. “Look closely and you will see them. They are barely there as they are only used to tell daylight from darkness. Teeny Weeny the Shrew depends on his nose chiefly. He has a very wonderful little nose, flexible and very sensitive. Of course, with such poor eyes he prefers the dark when there are fewer predators abroad.”
All this time Teeny Weeny the Shrew had been growing more and more uneasy. Mother Nature saw and understood. Now she told him that he might go. Hardly were the words out of her mouth when he vanished, darting under some dead leaves. Hidden by them he made his way to an old log and was seen no more.
“Doesn’t he eat anything other than insects and worms?” asked Striped Chipmunk.
“Yes,” replied Mother Nature. “He is very fond of flesh, and if he finds the body of a bird or animal that has been killed he will tear it to pieces. He is so little and so active that he has to have a great deal of food and probably eats his own weight in food every day. Of course, that means he must do a great deal of hunting, which he does.”
“He makes tiny little paths under the fallen leaves and in swampy place he makes little tunnels through the moss. He is especially fond of old rotted stumps and logs and brush piles, for in such places he can find grubs and insects. At the same time he is well hidden. He is active by day and night, although in the daytime takes pains to keep out of the light. He prefers damp to dry places. In winter he tunnels about under the snow. In summer he uses the tunnels and runways of Meadow Mice and others when he can. He eats seeds and other vegetable food when he cannot find insects or flesh.”
“How about his predators?” asked Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
“He has plenty,” replied Mother Nature, “although he is not so much hunted as the members of the Mouse family. This is because he has a strong, unpleasant scent which makes him a poor meal for those at all particular about their food. Some of the Hawks and Owls appear not to mind this, and these are his worst predators.”
“Has he any near relatives?” asked Jumper the Hare.
“Several,” was Mother Nature’s prompt response. “The Short-tailed Shrew, also called Mole Shrew, is the best known. He is found everywhere, in forests, old pastures and along grassy banks, and seldom far from water. He prefers moist ground. He is much larger and thicker than Teeny Weeny the Shrew and has a shorter tail. People often mistake him for Miner the Mole, because of the thick, fine fur which is much like Miner’s and his habit of tunneling about just beneath the surface, however if they would look at his forefeet they would know the difference. They are small and like the feet of the Mouse family, not at all like Miner’s big shovels. Moreover, he is smaller than Miner, and his tunnels are seldom in the earth rather just under the leaves and grass.”
“His food is much the same as that of Teeny Weeny the Shrew preferring worms, insects, flesh when he can get it, and seeds. He is fond of beechnuts. He makes a soft, comfortable nest under a log or in a stump or in the ground and has from four to six babies at a time. Teeny Weeny the Shrew sometimes has as many as ten. The senses of smell and hearing are very keen for him and make up for the lack of sight. His eyes, like those of other Shrews, are probably of use only in distinguishing light from darkness. His coat is dark brownish-gray.”
“Another of the Shrew family is the Marsh Shrew, also called Water Shrew and Black-and white Shrew. He is longer than either of the others and, as you have guessed, is a lover of water. He is a good swimmer and gets much of his food in the water feeding on water Beetles and grubs and perhaps Tadpoles and Minnows. Now who among you knows Miner the Mole?”
“I do. That is, I have seen him,” replied Peter Rabbit.
“Very well, Peter, tomorrow morning we will see how much you know about Miner,” replied Mother Nature.
- Can you tell the difference between a mouse and a shrew? Have you ever confused the two? Do you have an outdoor cat that tends to bring these home? Which ones typically – mice or shrews?
- How often are mice characters in the stories you read vs. how often do you have characters that are shrews? What are some of your favorite mouse characters? Do you have any favorite shrew characters? Example: the main character Ralph S. Mouse in the Mouse and the Motorcycle series by Beverly Cleary.