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Elliot's short-tailed shrew

Blarina hylophaga

What do they look like?

Elliot's short-tailed shrews are 75 to 105 mm in length, and their tail is an additional 17 to 30 mm. They weigh 15 to 30 g. The fur on their back is silvery-gray to black, and their underside is only slightly paler. The have a robust body and a pointed muzzle that extends beyond the mouth. They have small eyes, ears hidden by the fur, and small front and hind limbs and feet. Males and females look the same. They also have 5 unicuspid teeth in their upper jaw. Females have 6 mammae.

Elliot's short-tailed shrews look very similar to southern short-tailed shrews. Both are small, slate-gray to brown shrews with short tails and no external ears. Elliot's short-tailed shrews are more gray and less brown in color and also have a slightly larger head. They also look very similar to northern short-tailed shrews. Because they are found in different ranges, members of this genus Blarina are generally easy to identify in the field. (Benedict, R.A., Feb. 1999; George, 1999; Nowak, 1999; Davis and Schmidly, 1994; The University of Kansas, 2001)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    13 to 16 g
    0.46 to 0.56 oz
  • Range length
    92 to 121 mm
    3.62 to 4.76 in
  • Average length
    90.00 mm
    3.54 in

Where do they live?

Elliot's short-tailed shrews are found from southern Nebraska and Iowa to southern Texas, east to Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and throughout Oklahoma. (Nowak, 1999)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Elliot's short-tailed shrews are found in various habitats. They prefer the damp soils of oak-hickory and other deciduous forests, grasslands, and the banks of rivers and lakes that allow easy burrowing. They avoid standing water, and, in soft soils, they often use the trails and burrows created by other small mammals. In deciduous forests, they most frequently are found near old decaying logs and at the bases of rock outcrops. They may burrow extensively under leaf litter, logs, humus of the forest floor, and deeply into the soil, but ground cover is not required. In addition, they may shelter in logs, stumps, or crevices of building foundations. (Hutterer, 1993; Nowak, 1999; Davis and Schmidly, 1994; The University of Kansas, 2001)

How do they reproduce?

Elliot's short-tailed shrews are thought to be polygynandrous, meaning males and females have multiple mates.

Elliot's short-tailed shrews are usually solitary, but individuals come together from early spring to early autumn in order to reproduce. The estrous cycle is 2 to 4 days. Gestation averages from 21 to 22 days. Females produce 2 to 3 litters per year. Litters range from 4 to 10 individuals, though they usually contain 5 or 6 young. Elliot's short-tailed shrews are born hairless, pink, and wrinkled. Nests are constructed of leaves, grasses, and plant fibers, and they are usually made under logs, in burrows, or, rarely, on top of the ground. (Nowak, 1999; The University of Kansas, 2001)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Elliot's short-tailed shrews can breed 2 or 3 times per year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding takes place from early spring to early autumn.
  • Range number of offspring
    4 to 10
  • Average number of offspring
    5 or 6
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    21 to 22 days
  • Range weaning age
    18 to 20 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    6 to 12 weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    6 to 12 weeks

Female Elliot's short-tailed shrews provide parental care to their young. Young leave the nest at 18 to 20 days and are weaned a few days after. Females attain sexual maturity at 6 weeks of age and males at 12 weeks of age. It is possible for a female shrew born in early spring to breed by late summer or autumn of the same year. Males generally do not breed until the spring after their birth. (Nowak, 1999; The University of Kansas, 2001)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

How long do they live?

Few wild Blarina individuals survive more than a year. However, captive individuals have survived to 33 months. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    33 (high) months
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    2.8 years

How do they behave?

Elliot's short-tailed shrews do not hibernate, but rather are active throughout the year. They do, however, store reserves of food during the winter. They are active throughout the day and night. They are a solitary and territorial species, only coming together to breed. Elliot's short-tailed shrews defend their territory, fighting off intruders. They mark they ranges with scent, which is created in glands on the skin. These glands, especially on the flanks and anal region in both sexes, secrete odors repugnant to predators. Their odor may also act as a chemical signal to attract or deter other shrews. As a consequence, humans can smell this odor especially during breeding season. Elliot's short-tailed shrews are also effective climbers. (Nowak, 1999; The University of Kansas, 2001)

Home Range

The size of the home range of these shrews is not available.

How do they communicate with each other?

Elliot's short-tailed shrews use scent for communication of reproductive and territorial information. It is likey that tactile cues are important during mating and between a mother and her offspring. They also use echolocation to help navigate underground and to hunt. (Nowak, 1999)

What do they eat?

Elliot's short-tailed shrews feed primarily on insects and also frequently eat arthropods and earthworms. Many other invertebrates, small vertebrates, and some plant material, particulary seeds, are also eaten. They capture food by searching ground litter, digging superficial burrows in the ground, and using echolocation by high-pitched calls. Elliot's short-tailed shrews also have specialized teeth from which submaxillary glands secrete poison. This poison immobilizes small animals, making it possible for shrews to quickly and efficiently kill prey larger than themselves, such as mice. (Davis and Schmidly, 1994; The University of Kansas, 2001)

  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

The skin of Elliot's short-tailed shrews contains glands that secrete odors repugnant to predators. Carnivorous mammals often capture these shrews but seldom eat them due to these foul-smelling skin glands. Predators include owls, hawks, snakes, and domestic cats. (The University of Kansas, 2001)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Members of the genus Blarina, including Elliot's short-tailed shrews are the most fossorial of American shrews, living underground. Their movement underground loosens soil, allowing air into the soil. Elliot's short-tailed shrews use surface and subsurface runways and burrows of small mammals. They also use leaf litter and decomposing trees to burrow and nest. Members of this genus, including this species, serves an important role in controlling the population size of larch sawflies and other destructive insects. (Nowak, 1999; The University of Kansas, 2001)

Do they cause problems?

Elliot's short-tailed shrews have been known to bite humans, and their venom has negative effects though it is not life-threatening. This species of shrew may also be a nuisance when sheltering in crevices of building foundations, especially because they produce a foul smell. (Nowak, 1999; Vaughn, T.A. and Czaplewski, N.J., 2000)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • injures humans
  • household pest

How do they interact with us?

Elliot's short-tailed shrews help control populations of larch sawflies and other destructive insects. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Elliot's short-tailed shrews are common, abundant, and widespread in their range. Some populations, however, are at risk because of human development and habitat loss, as well as predation by domestic cats. The subspecies Blarina hylophaga plumbea is known by 7 specimens on the Texas coast at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, where small groups have been recently discovered. (Nowak, 1999)

Some more information...


Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, George Hammond (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff, Gail McCormick (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Dana Begnoche (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Bret Weinstein (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Benedict, R.A., Feb. 1999. Characteristics of a hybrid zone between two species of short-tailed shrew (Blarina). Journal of Mammology, 80: 135-141.

Braun, J.K., G., Nye, R., Stafira, J.. 2001. "Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History" (On-line). Accessed September 30, 2001 at

Davis, W., D. Schmidly. 1994. "The Mammals of Texas {Online Edition}" (On-line). Accessed September 30, 2001 at

George, S. 1999. Elliot's short-tailed shrew, Blarina hylophaga. Pp. 51-52 in D Wilson, S Ruff, eds. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Hutterer, R. 1993. "Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Mammal Species of the World" (On-line). Accessed October 7, 2001 at

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

The University of Kansas, 2001. "University of Kansas Key to Mammal Species in Kansas" (On-line). Accessed September 30, 2001 at

Vaughn, T.A., R., Czaplewski, N.J.. 2000. Mammology. New York: Saunder's College Publishing.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Begnoche, D. 2011. "Blarina hylophaga" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 13, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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