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Any of more than 300 species of small insectivores constituting the family Soricidae. About 40% of these species live in Africa, but shrews are also found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Shrews are absent from Australia and most of South America. They have tiny eyes and ears, a movable snout, and long, hook-tipped incisors. Typically 2 to 3 in. (6 to 8 cm) long, with a shorter tail, many shrews weigh only about 0.5 oz (14 g). Some are considered the smallest mammals, weighing only a few grams, with bodies less than 2 in. long. Most species live in ground litter, but some live in burrows or trees and a few are semiaquatic. Because they are so small, shrews have the highest metabolic rates of any mammals (with pulses as high as 800 beats per minute). They spend most of their time searching for food, as they can survive only a few hours without eating. Their normal prey is invertebrates such as worms, though some will eat other small animals as well. Some species have toxic saliva (painful to humans). Raptors and snakes eat shrews, but mammals avoid them. Tree shrews (family Tupaiidae) belong to a separate mammalian order (Scandentia) unrelated to true shrews.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on shrew, visit Britannica.com.