This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
The Shrews belong to the order Insectivora, and form the family Soricidae. They are known by their hairy bodies, and by having the feet formed for running, eyes well developed, ears present but usually small, jaws prolenged, and a mobile snout exists. The typical species are European in distribution and the following are found in Great Britain.
The Common Shrew or Shrew-mouse (Sorex tetragonurus or 5. araneus), Fig. 2, averages about four inches in length, the tail making up half that measurement, and this appendage is of square shape. It is readily distinguished by its prolonged muzzle and by the teeth being coloured brown at their tips. It feeds upon insects and their larvae, and inhabits dry places, making a nest of leaves and grasses. The young, numbering from five to seven, are born in the spring. These little animals are very voracious in their habits, and frequently kill and devour one another. The Shrewmouse, however, secretes a fluid of a disagreeable odour in special glands, and this odour prevents larger animals from eating their flesh, although they are not infrequently killed, probably being mistaken for ordinary mice. In the autumn, numbers of these little animals may be seen lying dead, but what causes this destruction is not known. In former days the bite of the Shrew was accounted of a venomous kind, whilst its body, variously treated, was regarded as a cure for many complaints.
Fig. 2. - The Common Shrew or Shrew-Mouse.
The Water Shrew (Crossopus fodiens), Fig. 3, attains a total length of from 4½ to 5 inches. The ears are very small. Its colour is black on the upper and white on the under parts. The fur is of delicate texture, and adapted to resist the action of water. It is of active habits, diving and swimming with great facility, frequenting brooks and clear-running ditches, in the banks of which it lives. It eats the larvae or grubs of various aquatic insects, and is to the water what the Common Shrew is to the land.
Fig. 3. - The Water Shrew.
The Oared Shrew (Crossopus ciliatus) is the largest of British Shrews; its total length averages from 5 ¼ to 6 inches, and it derives its popular name from the hinder part of the tail being flattened like the blade of an oar. The term of "Black Water Shrew" has also been given to it on account of the black fur of its back, which is sprinkled with whitish hairs, while that of the belly is interspersed with hairs of a blackish tinge. It and another species of Shrew found in Ireland, called the Rustic Shrew (Corsira rustica), feed upon insects or their larvae, but they also appear to feed on vegetable matter.