Pygmy shrew (and a flea) accidentally trapped at Nedd

December 17th 2014

Pygmy shrew (and a flea) accidentally trapped at Nedd

On 24th November, I was inspecting what I had fondly thought were a fine row of neeps in our vegetable garden at Nedd (NC1331). Under their spreading tops, I discovered that at least half a dozen had been hollowed out, like Halloween pumpkins. Small rodents seemed the likely culprits, and since we grow neeps for our consumption, not theirs, I put down mouse traps, baited with cheese, in three tile drainpipes (to prevent access by birds).

Since then the traps have caught thirteen wood mice, two bank voles, two pygmy shrews and a water shrew. Shrews were not the intended quarry, so I have now removed the traps, and turned the damaged neeps into soup.

The pygmy shrew caught on 8th December is illustrated; it has the relatively long tail (at about 40mm, 70% as long as the head and body) which distinguishes this species from the larger common shrew. It weighed about three grams, indicating that it was still immature (adults weigh about five grams).

Shrews live for only about 18 months, being born one spring, overwintering (if they are lucky), breeding the following year and dying in the autumn.

This pygmy shrew was accompanied by a flea, which I collected and am having identified, since there are few records of shrew fleas (or almost any others) from the north of Scotland.

Ian M. Evans

Pygmy Shrew Nedd. Photo I.Evans
Pygmy Shrew Nedd. Photo I.Evans
Pygmy Shrew flea Nedd. Photo I. Evans
Pygmy Shrew flea Nedd. Photo I. Evans

Update – Flea on pygmy shrew, Nedd

The flea mentioned above has now been identified, by Frank Clark from Leicestershire, as a female Amalaraeus penicilliger mustelae. This is a species most commonly associated with voles, especially the bank vole, but which has also been found on most other species of small mammal in Britain.

I have had it on five previous occasions in Assynt, in small mammal nests at Glenleraig, Nedd and Oldany, on a bank vole trapped in our garage at Nedd and on a weasel found as a road casualty at Skiag Bridge. Lest anyone think that flea identification is a pushover, Frank informs me that he had to de-sclerotize the specimen in KOH ‘in order to see the relevant bits’ under the microscope.

Fleas are an under-worked aspect of the biodiversity of Assynt, of interest because many are very specific as to host (unlike A. p. mustelae). I have had ten species from a range of situations, including those mentioned above, together with bird nest boxes, nests of house and sand martins, cat and pipistrelle bat, but never, so far, from mole or badger, both of which host very large fleas.
It is reassuring that this particular species is marked NKBH?, i.e. Not known to bite humans! Ian Evans 5.2.15

Report a Sighting

Recent Sightings

Gannet

Eight birds fishing, Bay of Stoer (Charlie Leeson) (10/08)

Corncrake

Single bird heard, Culkein Stoer (Nick Simpson).   (09/08)

Merlin

Single male flying alongside road, Inchnadamph (Paul MGowan) (09/08)

Common Toad

Single amphibian in grass near Oldany (DAH) (07/08)

Palmate Newt

Single amphibian in grass near Oldany (DAH) (07/08)

Butterflies

Scotch Argus (7), Speckled Wood (2), Dark Green Fritillary (1), Meadow Brown (1), all along stretch of B869 from mouth of Oldany River to Culkein Drumbeg junction (DAH) (07/08)

Gannet

Two birds, one immature, fishing from Bay of Clachtoll to Bay of Stoer (Charlie Leeson) (07/08)

Field Gentian (Gentianella campestris)

15+ plants coming into flower, Stoer green (Charlie Leeson) (07/08)

Map