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Jane Larson, age 10, of Annapolis, Md., for her question:

WHAT KIND OF ANIMAL IS THE SHREW?

A shrew is a small animal that looks very much like a sharp nosed mouse. Some shrews are among the smallest known mammals. The smallest shrew weighs no more than a copper penny.

You'll find shrews living in both the eastern and western hemispheres. They make their homes in fields, gardens, woodlands and marshes.

Shrews are sometimes mistaken for mice because of their small size. Their eyes are not much larger than pin heads and their tiny ears are just a fraction of an inch long. Their bodies are covered with very soft, short, dark brown hair.

Smallest of the shrews is the pigmy shrew, which is only about 3 1/2 inches long. The largest found in America is the water shrew, which grows to be 6 inches long.

The long, slender noses of shrews are flexible and can be moved by the animal to explore small holes and crevices for food.

Shrews eat insects and worms chiefly, but they sometimes kill and eat birds and other small creatures. Sometimes they even attack mice larger than themselves.

Shrews are fierce fighters. The bite of some shrews is poisonous to their prey. Shrews must eat almost continuously during the day to satisfy their high energy requirements.

Weasels, foxes and owls prey on the shrews. But the shrews' strong musky odor helps to protect them against most enemies.

The short tailed shrew, which lives in the eastern part of the United States, eats snails. The masked shrew is found in the northern part of the U.S. and also in Canada. It usually lives near marshes and streams.

Shrews are harmless to people. They are useful in gardens because they eat harmful insects and shrubs.

The tree shrew lives in the forests of India, Southeast Asia and in the southern part of China.

Tree shrews are swift moving animals that look and act like small squirrels with long noses. They grow to be less than 8 inches long, not including their tails, and weigh less than one pound.

Some zoologists believe that the tree shrew belongs to an order of animals called primates, which include monkeys and human beings. Tree shrews, like primates, have relatively large brains and eyes.

Other zoologists classify tree shrews as members of the order of insectivores, which includes moles. Like insectivores, tree shrews have claws on all of their fingers and toes. Primates have at least one nail on each foot.

Still other zoologists put tree shrews in an order of their own.

Experts do agree, however, that the tree shrew is related both to the primates and the insectivores.

 

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