News Round-Up

Shrinking instead of growing: how shrews survive the winter


Last year, about 30 common shrews from the area around Möggingen had an unusual adventure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behaviour in Radolfzell captured the animals, measured their skulls, and examined their metabolism. The animals were then released back into the wild. This all led to an exciting discovery. The measurements revealed that the animals’ metabolism is equally active in summer and winter. Animals that do not hibernate usually require more energy in winter in order to maintain a constant body temperature. This gives shrews a survival advantage that has likely enabled them to colonise colder regions.

Common shrews have one of the highest metabolic rates among mammals. They must therefore consume a considerable amount of energy for their relatively low body weight. Because their fat reserves are quickly used up, they often starve to death after only a few hours without food. Nevertheless, forest shrews and their close relatives are highly evolutionarily successful and quite widespread, especially in the northern hemisphere.

Dina Dechmann, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour in Radolfzell, hopes to find out how animals deal with large fluctuations in food supply and other resources. For example, how do tiny shrews manage to overcome the cold and food shortages in winter? But studies with wild shrews consume a great deal of time and resources. Because of their strong territorial behaviour, the animals must be kept in large individual enclosures throughout the experiments. MORE

Header image: © Christian Ziegler.

Leave a Comment