DSU finds rare, tiny shrewThough tiny, Dickinson State University officials say a shrew weighing 5 grams captured in Billings County is a huge find.
Though tiny, Dickinson State University officials say a shrew weighing 5 grams captured in Billings County is a huge find.
The DSU Department of Natural Sciences recently received confirmation from the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History that the shrew captured during a research project is the second of its kind ever found in North Dakota, said Michael Shaughnessy Jr., DSU associate professor of Biology.
“In terms of science and mammalogy in particular, it’s a find of national importance,” he said. “Certainly it’s of regional importance.”
The other documented specimen of this type of shrew, known as Merriam’s shrew or Sorex merriami, in North Dakota was caught near Medora in 1913, Shaughnessy said.
“It’s at the Smithsonian in (Washington) D.C., and they don’t even have a skull,” he said. “So we actually have a more valuable specimen than even they do now because we have a skull.”
The find was part of an ongoing project involving six students funded by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department to survey prairie dog towns.
“As part of that, I also included small mammal surveys to see what sort of rodents may be occurring in prairie dog towns in North Dakota,” Shaughnessy said.
DSU students Samantha Pounds and Kim Waldner-Reid found the shrew in one of their traps about nine miles north of Medora in July.
Shaughnessy stressed it’s not an endangered species, but scarcely documented in the state.
“There’s almost no chance that we caught the last Sorex merriami in North Dakota,” he said.
There are other types of shrews in North Dakota, Shaughnessy added.
“Most people do mistake them for mice, but they’re very different,” he said.
Shrews are related to moles and hedgehogs and eat mostly insects, rather than nuts and other vegetation like mice. Their appearance differs as well, Shaughnessy said.
It’s difficult to capture them alive since they’re metabolism is so high and they’re so small; they can starve to death in minutes, he said.
“Shrews are the smallest mammals in North America,” Shaughnessy said.
Michael Hastings, chairman of the DSU department of natural sciences, said the find proves the value of research projects.
The project has also brought in a plethora of insects, Shaughnessy said.
This summer, prairie dog project participants will select sites that may produce more of the Merriam’s shrew.