From Vanderbilt’s Exploration online mag comes this dispatch (excerpts below) about the pound-for-pound audaciousness of the water shrew. The zine includes great high-speed video of the creature’s hunting prowess.
The scientist, Ken Catania, is a former MacArthur Fellow … and slightly resembles a woodland creature himself. Exploration previously reported on his groundbreaking work (ahem) with the starnosed mole.
The research reveals that the small animal possesses remarkably sophisticated methods for detecting prey that allow it to catch small fish and aquatic insects as readily in the dark as in daylight.
It is a skill set that the water shrew really needs. About half the size of a mouse, water shrews have such a high metabolism that they must eat more than their weight daily and can starve to death in half a day if they can’t find anything to eat. As a result, water shrews are formidable predators ounce for ounce.
“Water shrews do much of their hunting at night, so I began wondering how they can identify their prey in nearly total darkness,” says Ken Catania, the associate professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt who headed the study.
Catania teamed up with James Hare and Kevin Campbell at the University of Manitoba and used a high-speed infrared video camera to answer this question. The results of their study are reported in a paper titled “Water shrews detect movement, shape, and smell to find prey underwater” published Jan. 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.“Our research confirms that shrews in general, and water shrews in particular, are marvels of adaptation, with specializations and behaviors that put many other mammals to shame,” says Catania.