the taming of the shrew

Shrews have a very high rate of metabolism and therefore need to devour enormous quantities of food. To be impressed by the appetite of a shrew you only have to capture one and try to keep it fed. You will soon weary of any attempt to catch enough worms, grubs and insects to satiate it and will have to resort to teaching the shrew to eat dog food and ground meat.

Elephant Shrew found here

C. Hart Merriam, an American mammalogist, once confined three shrews under a glass tumbler. Two of them promptly attacked and ate the third. Eight hours later only a single shrew, with a slightly bulging stomach, remained.

fat shrew found here

Gerald Durrell wrote about his delightful encounter with a shrew here

I witnessed an extraordinary comedy that almost seemed performed for my own special benefit. On the tree-trunk where I was sitting, out of the undergrowth, up over the bark, there glided slowly, laboriously and regally a giant land-snail, the size of an apple.

image found here

I realised that as the snail was making its rather vague progress along the trunk it was leaving behind it a glistening trail, and this trail was followed by one of the most ferocious and bloodthirsty animals, for its size, to be found in the West African forest.

image found here

Out on to the log strutted a tiny creature only as long as a cigarette, clad in jet-black fur and with a long slender nose that it kept glued to the snail’s track, like a miniature black hound.ย It was one of the forest’s shrews, whose courage is incredible and whose appetite is prodigious and insatiable.

Wedgwood black cigarette jar found here

Chittering to himself, the shrew trotted rapidly after the snail and very soon overtook it. Uttering a high-pitched squeak, it flung itself on the portion which protruded from the back of the shell and sank its teeth into it. The snail, finding itself unceremoniously attacked from the rear, did the only possible thing and drew its body rapidly inside its shell. The muscular contraction of the snail was so strong, that as the tail disappeared inside the shell the shrew’s face was banged against it and his grip was broken. The shell, having now nothing to balance it, fell on its side, and the shrew, screaming with frustration, rushed forward and plunged his head into the interior, in an effort to retrieve the retreating mollusc. However, the snail was prepared for his attack and greeted the shrew with a sudden fountain of greenish-white froth that bubbled out and enveloped its nose and head. The shrew leapt back with surprise, knocking against the shell as it did so. The snail teetered for a moment and then rolled sideways and dropped into the undergrowth beneath the log. The shrew meanwhile was sitting on its hind legs, almost incoherent with rage, sneezing violently and trying to wipe the froth from its face with its paws.

frothy minted sake found here

The whole thing was so ludicrous that I started to laugh, and the shrew, casting a hasty and offended glance in my direction, leapt down into the undergrowth and hurried away……

Published in: on June 18, 2012 at 8:36 am  Comments (62)  
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62 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I cannot imagine how in the world you find this stuff, but you do and it’s hysterical the way you tell it!

    • I read about the shrew’s habits in a book called Extreme Science then I googled shrew and found the Gerald Durrell story. Gerald did all the work for me ๐Ÿ™‚

      • That wicked humor of yours had absolutely nothing to do with it, I’m sure. ๐Ÿ™‚ I love it. Carry on!

  2. Not sure I like the look of that minted sake, especially after reading about snail squirt!

    • I’m not a fan of sake but i do like Japanese food a lot

  3. Gerald Durrell was a brilliant and fascinating writer…as well as someone who truly cared for the natural world. I would never be able to have a big snail like that on my hand, nor do I think would it be very nice fried with garlic

    • No, the giant snail is quite a turn off isn’t it?

  4. Eewww, where do you find this stuff Nurse Myra? I had no idea shrews where this bloodthirsty.

    • See my answer to George (above)

  5. How absolutely fascinating. Not least because I never think of snails actually fighting, they seem too slow and clumsy.

    It also reminded me of what a brilliant, brilliant writer Gerald Durrell was. I interviewed him twice and corresponded with him also, and they were among the most enjoyable interviews I ever did. I only wish I’d kept the letters. .

    • That’s great you got to correspond with him! ‘My Family & Other Animals’ was a defining book in my childhood- I still find it laugh out loud funny, and buy a new copy every year or so as the last one gets loaned and never returned.
      Nurse M- the shrew picture is amazing, no idea they were that cute. There’s enough snails in my yard to keep one happy at least a few days, any idea on the black market in Soricomorpha? (AND I just learned Elephant shrews aren’t even true shrews- you’re a marvel with the entertainment and education!)

    • He was a lovely chap, wasn’t he? I,too, had some correspondence with him, but think I’ll keep it private.

      • Wow – you lucky people. I’ve had a nice emailed reply from a current writer I like but nothing along the lines of a real letter from someone as famous as Gerald Durrell

  6. And using yet another Shakespearean reference, โ€œAllโ€™s Well That Ends Wellโ€ฆโ€ – for the snail. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Love the word โ€œchittering.โ€

    • Me too. I’ve used it in conversation since too.

  7. That was so funny! Sat here in my morning coffee shop with a big, stupid grin on my face. I’m sure people were wondering. Durrell has a way with words. I’m not familiar with him. Thanks! Capturing a shrew has just been posted to my to-do list.

    • How long is that to-do list now UB?

  8. The two animals that freak me out the most: the shrew and the brown recluse… great item

    • The brown recluse I completely understand. but why the shrew?

  9. and i thought rabbits ate endlessly. these shrew creatures sound really wicked for their size.

  10. Love the shrew’s determination….

  11. I suspect the shrew returned shortly with some melted butter and garlic…

  12. The only word that comes to mind is “gluttonny”. Hello Nurse Myra.

    • Hello Inzwakazi. Haven’t seen you here in a long while.

      • I have been trying to set up an online mag with a friend. We started with wordpress. So everytime I logged in as the mag admin and didnt want to make a confusion by commenting or liking. It now has moved from wordpress and would like to think I am back now.

  13. Shrews are one of my two most favouritist animals. The other is the antechinus ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Antechinus comes to a gristly end, though!;-)

      • I like the pygmy marmoset…

  14. At school we called him Juggle Duggle because Gerald Durrell sounded like a posh name and we were northern oiks.

  15. One summer I lived near a lake. Every morning there’d be dead shrews outside. Cats and other animals would kill them but not swallow them because there is something nasty in their fur. There were also lots of burying beetles around. By the end of the day all the shrew corpses would be gone, interred by insects.

    • Wow – you could learn so much about life cycles just sitting there on a deckchair and watching your surroundings all day

      • Especially with a cold beverage in your hand.

  16. Some shrews just can’t be tamed!

    • I believe Shakespeare managed it

  17. Today myself and VespaDan saw a rehearsal of Taming of the Shrew at the replica Globe Theatre in London. The coincidence is almost eerie!

    • One of my most enjoyable theatre experiences was working the lights for an amateur production of “Kiss Me Kate”. There was nothing shrewish about Kate ๐Ÿ˜‰

  18. I never knew snails had defensive weapons.

    • Neither did I Binky.

  19. It just goes to shrew ya…

  20. Who knew snails could be so ferocious?

  21. That is absolutely hilarious–you share the most interesting stories!

  22. What an epic battle. Who needs heavyweight boxing?

  23. I had no idea the snail was able to spray its predators with “greenish-white froth”. How very useful. If only I had the same facility, life might be a lot easier.

    I’m glad I don’t have the shrew’s appetite though. That would make life a great deal harder.

  24. I thoroughly enjoyed this whole post, and now I have a new book on my list of “Must Read” Durrell sounds like he is right up my alley. Thank you for a lovely start to the day.

  25. ack! I almost had to stop reading at the snail (shudder!!)
    glad i did, though – as always, very good read, indeed ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks!

    • The size is really off putting isn’t it? I’m glad we don’t have that type of snail in Sydney

      • Didn’t the Customs chaps confiscate a Giant African Snail a while ago.Blimey! Imagine if they were let loose-they might team up with Cane Toads!

      • oh my lord…. it doesn’t bear thinking about

  26. Adorable picture of the elephant shrew. I had no idea they were any color other than mouse brown. Love the info in this post. Full of things I didn’t know, as usual. ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. Laughing out loud at your greenish white froth. One day I would like to see your weekly reading list!

    • Tammy, you just have to look in the sidebar at the right. There’s a list of all the books I’ve read over the past few years ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. How beautiful is that elephant shrew! And how terrifying. Now being locked alone in a room with a hungry shrew is added to my list of fears.

    • His/her colours are lovely aren’t they?

  29. Oooo i am soo downloading The Taming of the Shrew! Liz Taylor was just brilliant in that. Wonder why they never remade it

    • I haven’t seen her in that. another film to add to my list

      • Ooooo you must you must! It was fantastic! It was very enjoyable watching Burton tame her :p

  30. Go, the snails! Never knew those shrews were such nasty cannibalistic little critters

  31. Have now struck West African forests of my list of potential holiday destinations!

  32. Ok, I don’t think I took shrews very seriously before but now I’m going to find it impossible to.

    The idea of that creature sneezing and wiping its face of that foam? Hilarious.

  33. Apple sized snail? Shrew wiping off snail froth? I love your human foibles tales and now I’m a fan of your nature pieces.

  34. I have never seen an elephant shrew. And I hope I never see a snail that big.

  35. I like the colors on this Elephant Shrew… May I have a phone number of his hair stylist please?:)

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