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Venomous shrew slaughtered by cat

Posted on Nov 7, 2014

The following is a photo of the head and upper body of what appears to be a Northern Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda). Where did I find this deceased and otherwise tough to spot and secretive mammal? In its natural habitat, of course – the floor of a closed garage! The half of the body you cannot see has been devoured by a cat who does not leave a locked garage and the connected basement and is never permitted to even see an open door, let alone venture outside it. It would seem this shrew decided to come inside…looking for a snack? After taking a wrong turn with its poor vision as it uses touch and echolocation? We will never know. They will eat plant matter but prefer to be carnivores themselves dining on insects and even other small mammals such as mice.

Something that I learned about the Northern Short-tailed Shrew was that it is one of the rare venomous mammals. This paper says they hold, “the blarina toxin (BLTX), a lethal mammalian venom with a tissue kallikrein-like activity from the submaxillary and sublingual glands” and in mice it caused, “irregular respiration, paralysis, and convulsions before dying.” This venom is, “toxic to mammals, such as mice, voles, rabbits, and cats” and since they eat, “vertebrates, even larger than themselves, such as murid rodents and frogs…this shrew species may use its venom to paralyze and catch larger preys.” Even humans feel the bites as victims describe a, “local burning sensation around the tooth puncture marks and subsequent swelling”.

Photos after this first one show extremely graphic images of the shrew that has been killed and partially eaten.

Northern Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda) dead prey eaten head RTPI-0119

Once again, please be warned by the graphic nature of the following two photos if you have a sensitive stomach!

Northern Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda) dead prey eaten blood RTPI-0119

Northern Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda) dead prey eaten organs RTPI-0123

All of the above means this was one talented and lucky cat. He was delighted with his kill, inspecting it and happily prancing around while I tried to take photos before removing the body. This is an example of a needless death, one of literally millions that domestic and feral cats cause every single day across America. The cat was not hungry  – I can assure you – and it was only following its hunting instinct, even bringing some of the kill to near the door for humans to enjoy. It is one more of a thousand reasons you must keep cats indoors at all times.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator