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Fast Fact: Northern Short-trailed Shrews

Northern short-tailed shrews are probably one of the weirdest animals you’ve never seen. That’s right, never seen. These shrews spend most of their lives underground or hidden away in leaf litter, so they aren’t often seen. And even when they are, people often mistake them for mice. Shrews, though, aren’t closely related to mice. They aren’t even rodents. They are classified as insectivores, a group that also includes hedgehogs and moles.

Short-tailed shrews have poor vision that only allows them to differentiate between light and dark, but this isn’t too much of a problem because they mostly stay underground where it’s always dark. To help them “see” their way around their environment, they rely on echolocation, just like bats. Short-tailed shrews are the only venomous mammal in the United States. Their saliva contains a toxin that can kill or paralyze their prey, which makes it easier to eat. They mostly eat invertebrates such as centipedes, earthworms, snails and spiders, but they also eat small amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles, as well as some plant matter.

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