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European Water Shrew, Northern Water Shrew, Water Shrew

Neomys fodiens (Pennant 1771)

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

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Maximum longevity: 3.1 years (captivity) Observations: Unverified reports, which appear plausible, suggest that these animals may live up to 3.1 years of age in captivity, though they rarely live more than 1 year in the wild (http://members.chello.at/natura/shrew/index.html).
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Untitled

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During dives, air remains trapped between the outer hairs of the thick coat of water shrews. This greatly increases the bouyancy of this shrew. In a laboratory experiment, a few tenths of a mg of the neurotoxic saliva killed a vole very quickly.

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Fahey, B. 1999. "Neomys fodiens" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Neomys_fodiens.html
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Bridget Fahey, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Behavior

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Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical

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Fahey, B. 1999. "Neomys fodiens" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Neomys_fodiens.html
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Conservation Status

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Quite common within its geographical range.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Fahey, B. 1999. "Neomys fodiens" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Neomys_fodiens.html
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Bridget Fahey, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Benefits

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No negative impacts known.

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Fahey, B. 1999. "Neomys fodiens" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Neomys_fodiens.html
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Benefits

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These shrews eat the larvae of insects which some humans find bothersome.

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Fahey, B. 1999. "Neomys fodiens" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Neomys_fodiens.html
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Bridget Fahey, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Trophic Strategy

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These shrews forage almost exclusively underwater, efficiently preying on aquatic invertebrates such as snails, mollusks, freshwater insects, and also small vertebrates such as fish, amphibians and frogs. Prey are weakened by a poisonous secretion from the submaxillary gland. They generally forage by taking a dive that can last up to 20 seconds. After coming onto land, water shrews quickly run into their burrows and emerge a moment later almost dry, after coming through the tight squeeze of the tunnel where the water is absorbed by the soil. The process is then repeated a few meters away along the stream bank. Water shrews are also known to eat some terrestrial insects as well, such as dipteran larvae.

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Fahey, B. 1999. "Neomys fodiens" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Neomys_fodiens.html
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Bridget Fahey, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Distribution

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Neomys fodiens occurs throughout Eurasia, to western Siberia, northern Asia Minor, the Pacific coast of Siberia, and North Korea.

Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )

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Fahey, B. 1999. "Neomys fodiens" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Neomys_fodiens.html
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Bridget Fahey, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Habitat

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Found on the banks of both standing or flowing fresh water and adjacent areas.

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams

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Fahey, B. 1999. "Neomys fodiens" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Neomys_fodiens.html
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Bridget Fahey, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Life Expectancy

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Average lifespan
Status: wild:
3.0 years.

Average lifespan
Status: captivity:
1.6 years.

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Fahey, B. 1999. "Neomys fodiens" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Neomys_fodiens.html
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Bridget Fahey, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Morphology

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A darkly colored shrew with a white underside. Coloration on dorsal and ventral sides are sharply demarcated. A fringe of bristles runs along the ventral surface of the tail and on the paws which are thought to serve as a swimming aid. Teeth have red tips. Females have five pairs of mammae.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Average mass: 15 g.

Average basal metabolic rate: 0.328 W.

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Fahey, B. 1999. "Neomys fodiens" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Neomys_fodiens.html
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Bridget Fahey, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Reproduction

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The breeding season in England occurs fom April to September, with multiple litters per season. Litter size can be between 3 and 12, more commonly 5 or 6. Gestation lasts approximately 20 days, and lactation twice that. Sexual maturity is reached between 6 and 8 months.

Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual

Average birth mass: 0.78 g.

Average gestation period: 20 days.

Average number of offspring: 5.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male:
106 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female:
106 days.

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Fahey, B. 1999. "Neomys fodiens" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Neomys_fodiens.html
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Bridget Fahey, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Biology

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This largely nocturnal species (5) inhabits burrows during the day and emerges to feed on invertebrates at night (2). They dive under water to obtain prey such as freshwater shrimps and caddis fly larvae, and the occasional frog newt or small fish may be tackled (2). When diving, the water-resistant fur holds bubbles of air that give the shrew a silvery appearance (4). They can also hunt on land for worms, beetles and other terrestrial invertebrates (4). Shrews are well known for their voracious appetites; water shrews must eat about half their own body weight in food every 24-hours to stay alive (6). Unusually amongst mammals, this species has venomous saliva, which aids in stunning prey (2). This species frequently grooms itself carefully, especially after diving. Water is removed by shaking and scratching, and also by squeezing through their narrow burrows (6). Water shrews are solitary animals, and hold territories (2). They do not hibernate, but are active throughout the year (2). Breeding takes place between April and September (5); during this time 1 or 2, but occasionally 3 litters of 3-15 young are produced in a nest of woven grasses (2) after a gestation period of 14-21 days (4). The lifespan is short (between 14 and 19 months); adults die after breeding, and the young breed the following year (2). Predators include tawny owls, barn owls, foxes, predatory fish and kestrels (2).
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Conservation

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Water shrews are never very abundant (2), and their populations have a patchy distribution and are short-lived (5); it is therefore very difficult to detect whether the species is threatened (2). Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act protects all shrews from trapping without a licence (3).
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Description

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The water shrew is the largest of the British shrews (2); it has black upper parts and a whitish underside, between which there is a clear demarcation (4). Typically for most shrews, the snout is long and the eyes and ears are small (2). The fur is short and dense, and there are often tufts of white around the eyes and on the ears (2). Stiff hairs border the feet and form a keel on the underside of the tail (2), which aid in swimming (4). This species is a 'red-toothed shrew'; iron is deposited in the enamel of the tooth-tips, making them more resistant to wear-and-tear, and giving them a red appearance (6).
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Habitat

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This semi-aquatic species is found close to water, in stream banks, ponds, rivers, reed-beds and fens, with a particular preference for watercress beds (2). However, it may also occur away from water in damp woodlands (4), and hedgerows (5).
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Range

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Occurring throughout much of continental Europe, water shrews have a wide distribution in England, are quite common in Wales but rare in areas of northern and western Scotland (5). It is also found on several large offshore islands, including the Isle of Wight, Anglesey, Skye, Mull and Arran. It is absent from Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Scillies (2).
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Status

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Partially protected in the UK under Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3). Listed under Schedule III of the Bern Convention, and classified as a Species of Conservation Concern under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, although not a priority species (7).
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Threats

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Drainage schemes (2) and the modification of riverbanks and riparian vegetation resulting from river engineering and agricultural intensification are likely threats (5). As this species is at the top of a semi-aquatic food chain, it may be highly susceptible to the effects of agrochemicals. Furthermore, any contaminants entering the water can reduce prey availability (5). Loss of continuous hedgerows and a decline in hedgerow quality may also be a problem, as for many species of mammal (5).
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Brief Summary

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European water shrews are good at swimming, diving and climbing. They dig tunnels in banks, which is why they live in wet regions with lots of vegetation. In their search for food, they often hang sideways while they turn over stones to find aquatic insects. European water shrews are very noisy animals. They can make whistling sounds, trills and high shrieking and shushing noises. At the same time, they are very shy and can be literally scared to death.
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Eurasian water shrew

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The Eurasian water shrew (Neomys fodiens), known in the United Kingdom as the water shrew, is a relatively large shrew, up to 10 cm (4 in) long, with a tail up to three-quarters as long again. It has short, dark fur, often with a few white tufts, a white belly, and a few stiff hairs around the feet and tail. It lives close to fresh water, hunting aquatic prey in the water and nearby. Its fur traps bubbles of air in the water which greatly aids its buoyancy, but requires it to anchor itself to remain underwater for more than the briefest of dives.

Like many shrews, the water shrew has venomous saliva, making it one of the few venomous mammals, although it is not able to puncture the skin of large animals, nor that of humans. Highly territorial, it lives a solitary life and is found throughout the northern part of Europe and Asia, from Britain to Korea.

Description

The Eurasian water shrew grows to a length of about 10 cm (4 in) long with a tail length of 8 cm (3 in) and weight of 15 to 19 grams (0.53 to 0.67 oz). The dense short fur on the head, back and sides is greyish-black. The underparts are dirty white and are sharply demarcated from the dorsal surface. Sometimes they are tinged with rusty brown or occasionally are entirely dark grey. There is a white spot just behind the eye and often another near the small, rounded ear which is nearly hidden in the fur. The nose is black and the snout long and tapering.[3] The sharp, mostly white teeth are tipped with red, typical of the shrew subfamily Soricinae. The rusty colour comes from deposits of iron which serve to harden the enamel and which are concentrated in the tips of the teeth, particularly the molars which are the teeth most subject to wear.[4] The female has five pairs of nipples. The legs are short and the hind feet are powerful, with a fringe of short, stiff hairs on the outer edge, both of which features assist while it is driving its body through the water. The tail is slender and has a keel of short white hairs on the underside.[3] This shrew often utters shrill cries as it scurries about.[3]

Its karyotype has 2n = 52 and FN = 98.[1]

Distribution and habitat

The Eurasian water shrew is found throughout Europe with the exception of Iceland, Ireland, certain Mediterranean islands and the Balkans.[3] In Asia, its range extends from western Siberia and Asia Minor to North Korea and the Pacific coast of Siberia.[5] It rarely strays far from water and is found in and around ditches, streams, ponds, watercress beds, fish ponds, damp meadows and rough bushy ground adjoining water.[3]

Biology

Outside the breeding season, both male and female Eurasian water shrews maintain a territory but during the breeding season, only the females do so. At this time the males wander about visiting various female territories which indicates a promiscuous mating system without pair bonding.[6] On the whole they are solitary animals that seem to mutually avoid each other and there is no social hierarchy.[5]

The breeding season extends from April to September and much of the courtship takes place in the water. It either uses pre-existing burrows or digs its own. The nesting chamber is lined with moss, dry grass and leaves. Litters of four to eight or more young are born after a twenty-four-day gestation period. The young are tiny and helpless at birth. Their eyes open at fifteen to eighteen days and they are fully weaned at about seven weeks. Females can produce two or three litters a year.[3] The juveniles disperse after weaning, setting up their own territories.[6] They are sexually mature at six to eight months and their life expectancy is about three years.[5]

The Eurasian water shrew is active both night and day and is thoroughly at home in the water. Its short fur holds air and the skin does not get wet when it swims. When it emerges from the water it enters one of its many burrows and any moisture adhering to the fur is absorbed by the earth walls. It mostly feeds on aquatic organisms which are caught while it is swimming. It can remain underwater for twenty seconds before it has to surface to breathe. Larger prey items can be subdued by the toxic secretions from its submaxillary glands. They feed on crayfish, water snails, small fish, aquatic larvae, insects, spiders, amphibians, especially newts and small rodents are also eaten. It also feeds on land on such things as insect larvae.[5]

The Eurasian water shrew has a pair of glands under its jaw which produce venom, and this has been shown to be potent against the field vole (Microtus agrestis), and lethal at a minimum dose of fifteen milligrams per kilogram body weight.[7] The venom consists of a paralytic peptide which has been patented for use in neuromuscular therapy.[8]

Their behavior in captivity is described in Konrad Lorenz's book King Solomon's Ring.

Status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Eurasian water shrew as being of "Least concern" in its Red List of Threatened Species. This is because it has a large population distributed across a wide range and its population seems fairly stable. In some areas habitat degradation is occurring and wetlands are being drained but not to such an extent as to increase the status to "Vulnerable". Other possible threats include agricultural products and sewage which may pollute waterways and reduce the availability of food. In western Spain, a separate subspecies (N. f. niethammeri) has a very limited range and may be declining in numbers.[9]

References

  1. ^ a b Hutterer, R. (2005). "Order Soricomorpha". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  2. ^ Hutterer, R.; Meinig, H.; Bertolino, S.; Kryštufek, B.; Amori, A.; Sheftel, B.; Stubbe, M.; Samiya, R.; Ariunbold, J.; Buuveibaatar, V.; et al. (2008). "Neomys fodiens". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2008. Retrieved 2013-09-14.old-form url
  3. ^ a b c d e f Konig, Claus (1973). Mammals. Collins & Co. pp. 23–26. ISBN 978-0-00-212080-7.
  4. ^ Strait, S. G.; Smith, S. C. (2006). "Elemental analysis of soricine enamel: pigmentation variation and distribution in molars of Blarina brevicauda". Journal of Mammalogy. 87 (4): 700–705. doi:10.1644/05-MAMM-A-265R4.1.
  5. ^ a b c d Fahey, Bridget (1999). "Neomys fodiens: Eurasian water shrew". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
  6. ^ a b Cantoni, Debora (1993). "Social and spatial organization of free-ranging shrews, Sorex coronatus and Neomys fodiens (Insectivora, Mammalia)". Animal Behaviour. 45 (5): 975–995. doi:10.1006/anbe.1993.1116.
  7. ^ Dufton, Mark J. (1992). "Venomous mammals". Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 53 (2): 199–215. doi:10.1016/0163-7258(92)90009-O. PMID 1641406.
  8. ^ "Patent: Paralytic peptide for use in neuromuscular therapy". Patent 7485622. United States Patent Office. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
  9. ^ Hutterer, R.; Meinig, H.; Bertolino, S.; Kryštufek, B.; Amori, A.; Sheftel, B.; Stubbe, M.; Samiya, R.; Ariunbold, J.; Buuveibaatar, V.; et al. (2008). "'Neomys fodiens'". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2008. Retrieved 30 August 2013.old-form url
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Eurasian water shrew: Brief Summary

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The Eurasian water shrew (Neomys fodiens), known in the United Kingdom as the water shrew, is a relatively large shrew, up to 10 cm (4 in) long, with a tail up to three-quarters as long again. It has short, dark fur, often with a few white tufts, a white belly, and a few stiff hairs around the feet and tail. It lives close to fresh water, hunting aquatic prey in the water and nearby. Its fur traps bubbles of air in the water which greatly aids its buoyancy, but requires it to anchor itself to remain underwater for more than the briefest of dives.

Like many shrews, the water shrew has venomous saliva, making it one of the few venomous mammals, although it is not able to puncture the skin of large animals, nor that of humans. Highly territorial, it lives a solitary life and is found throughout the northern part of Europe and Asia, from Britain to Korea.

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