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Northland Nature: Shrews make trails in the new snow

A shrew makes a trail in light snow in the woods. Photo by Larry Weber

Thanks to the warmer temperatures and rain at Thanksgiving, much of the snow cover that we had earlier in November had dissipated. The 44 degrees recorded Nov. 23 tied Nov. 3 for being the warmest temperature of the whole month. Rains, also on that day, provided nearly one-third of the monthly precipitation.

Suddenly, the ground cover of snow we had was gone. And lakes that were coated with snow-covered ice had water puddles on the frozen surface. I found only patches of snow in the woods — much less than earlier.

The ground remained frozen and though some had puddles, the ice remained intact.

The nearby woods was home to tracks of grouse, turkeys and snowshoe hare. And here, too, I also found the trails of shrews.

Shrews are tiny mammals that abound in the region. Though ferocious predators, they are so small that we often do not see them. With a high metabolism and a demanding appetite, they stay active all year, day or night.

In winter, they prefer to be under the snow blanket when they can. However, with the light snow cover we had at the end of November, they will just push their way through. Being tiny, it is hard to see their footprints, but as they move through the snow, what we see is their trails.

It seems like I can't walk in the woods after a new snow cover and not see shrew trails. In their search for meals, shrews push through the snow like miniature bulldozers. These trails tell of their following scents of possible prey, often going long distances through the woods.

Though we have several species of shrews in the region, the ones that I find the most are the short-tailed shrew: 3 inches long, gray-black body, tiny eyes and a short tail.

Sometimes called moles, which they are related to, they are much smaller than true moles. Shrews are probably the smallest predator to be active throughout the winter in the Northland.

Mostly under the snow, they now show their activity by forming trails in the light snow cover.

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including "Butterflies of the North Woods," "Spiders of the North Woods," "Webwood" and "In a Patch of Goldenrods." Contact him c/o krohman@duluthnews.com.

Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com. 

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