70            Say's Least Shrew

                              SOREX PARVUS.--SAY.
                               [Cryptotis parua]

                               SAY'S LEAST SHREW.
                                 [Least Shrew]

                                   PLATE LXX.

     S. supra fuscenti-cinereus, infra cinereus; dentibus nigricantibus; cauda
brevi, sub-cylindrica.

     Body above brownish ash, cinercous beneath.  Teeth black, tail short


     SOREX PARVUS, Say, Long's Exped., vol. i., p. 163.
     SOREX PARVUS, Linsby, Am. Journal, vol. xxxix., p. 388.
     SOREX PARVUS, Harlan, p. 28. Godman, vol. i., p. 78, pl., fig. 2.
     SOREX PARVUS, Dekay, Nat. Hist. N. Y., p. 19.


                                 DENTAL SYSTEM.

                        2                   4-4        4-4
               Incisive -; Lateral incisive ---; Molar --- = 32.
                        2                   2-2        4-4

     In the upper jaws the incisors are small, much hooked, and have a posterior
lobe; the succeeding lateral incisors, are minute, conical, not lobed, the two
anterior ones much the largest.  The first grinder is smaller than the second
and third, the fourth is the smallest.  In the lower jaw the incisors are a
little smaller than those in the upper.  They are much more hooked and have each
a large posterior lobe.  The two lateral incisors are small not lobed--the
grinders have each two sharp points rising above the enamel.  The second tooth
is largest and the third smallest.  Nose slender and long, but less so than that
of many other species, especially that of S. longirostris and S. Richardsonii.
Muzzle, bi-lobate, naked; moustaches, numerous, long, reaching to the shoulders;
body, slender; eyes, very small, cars, none; the auditory opening being covered
by a round lobe, without any folds above; feet sparsely clothed with minute
hairs, palms naked; tail thickly clothed with minute hairs, fur, short, close,
soft, and silky.


     All the teeth are at their points intensely black; whiskers, white and
black; point of nose, feet, and nails, whitish; the hair is, on the upper
surface plumbeous from the roots, and of an ashy-brown at the tips; a shade
lighter on the under surface:  under the chin it is of an ashy grey gradually
blending with the colours on the back.

     From point of nose to root of tail, .  .  .  .  .  .  .      2 7/8
     Tail, .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .        3/4


     This little creature, to which the above name was attached by SAY, was
first captured by Mr. TITIAN R. PEALE, during LONG's Expedition to the Rocky
Mountains, at Engineer Cantonment on the Missouri, where it was found in a
pit-fall excavated for catching wolves.
     Look at the plate, reader, and imagine the astonishment of the hunter on
examining the pit intended for the destruction of the savage prowlers of the
prairies, when, instead of the game that he intended to entrap, he perceived
this, the Least Shrew, timidly running across the bottom.
     The family to which this Shrew belongs is somewhat allied in form and
habits to the mole, but many species are now probably extinct.
     We have seen a fragment of a fossil remainder of the tooth of a Sorex,
found by our young friend Dr. LECONTE, of New-York, in the mining region
adjoining Lake Superior, from the size of which, the animal must have been at
least a yard long, and no doubt was, with its carnivorous teeth, a formidable
beast of prey; whether it had insects and worms of a corresponding size to feed
upon, in its day and generation, is a matter of mere conjecture, as even the
wonderful discoveries of geologists have thrown but little light on the modes of
life of the inhabitants of the ancient world, although some whole skeletons are
found from time to time by their researches.
     The Least Shrew feeds upon insects and larvae, worms and the flesh of any
dead bird or beast that it may chance to discover.
     It also eats seeds and grains of different kinds.  It burrows in the earth,
but seeks its food more upon the surface of the ground than the mole, and runs
with ease around its burrow about fences and logs.  Some birds of prey pounce
upon the Shrew, whilst it is playing or seeking its food on the grass, but as it
has a musky, disagreeable smell, it is commonly left after being killed, to rot
on the ground, as we have picked up a good many of these little quadrupeds,
which to all appearance had been killed by either cats, owls or hawks.  This
smell arises from a secretion exuded from glands which are placed on the sides
of the animal (Geoffroy, Mem. Mus. Hist. Nat., Vol. i., 1815), This secretion,
like that of most animals, varies according to the age, the season, &c., and
prevails more in males than females.
     Of the mode in which the Least Shrew passes the winter we have no very
positive information.  It is capable of sustaining a great degree of cold.  We
have never found one of these animals in a torpid state, when examining burrows,
holes, or cavities in and under rocks or stones, &c., for the purpose of
ascertaining, if possible, the manner in which they passed the winter.  We have
seen minute tracks on the surface of the snow where it was four feet in depth in
the Northern parts of New-York, which we ascertained were the foot-prints of a
Shrew which was afterwards captured, although we cannot be certain that it was
this species, It had sought the dried stalks of the pig weed (chenopodium album)
on which the ripened seeds were still hanging and upon which it had evidently
been feeding.
     We are unacquainted with any other habits of this minute species.

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     If authors have made no mistake in the designation of this species, as we
strongly suspect, it has a wide geographical range:  according to RICHARDSON, it
is found as far to the north as Behring's Straits.  The specimens from which our
figures were taken, were obtained in the immediate vicinity of New-York.  Dr.
DEKAY, in his Nat. Hist. of New-York, p. 20, mentions that although he had been
unsuccessful in obtaining it in New-York, a specimen was found in Connecticut,
by Mr. LINSLEY.  We have not ascertained its southern range, all we know of its
existence in the west, is from SAY's short description of the only specimen
obtained west of the Missouri.

                                GENERAL REMARKS.

     All our authors seem anxious to obtain SAY's Least Shrew, and we have seen
dozens of specimens of young Shrews of several species, labeled in the cabinets
"Sorex Parvus."
     Although there were few more accurate describers than SAY, yet his
description of S. parvus, is too imperfect, to enable us to feel confident of
the species.   There was no examination of its dental system, and his
description would easily apply to half a dozen other species.  The characters by
which we may separate the different Shrews are not easily detected, they very
much resemble each other in form, colour and habits; they are minute nocturnal
animals and not easily procured.
     There exist but few specimens in our cabinets to enable us to institute
comparisons, and a century will pass away before all our species are discovered.
We have very little doubt, that when the species which was obtained in the far
West and described by SAY, and that of RICHARDSON from the far north, and ours
from the vicinity of New-York, are obtained and compared and their dental system
carefully examined, it will be ascertained that they are three distinct species,
and our successors will be surprised that the old authors gave to the Shrews so
wide a geographical range.
     SAY's description is subjoined for convenient comparison.  "Body above
brownish cinereous, beneath cinereous; head elongated, eyes and ears concealed;
whiskers long, the longest nearly attaining the back of the head; nose naked
emarginate; front teeth black, lateral ones piceous; feet whitish, five-toed;
nails prominent, acute, white; tail short, sub-cylindrical, of moderate
thickness, slightly thicker in the middle-whitish beneath.  Length of head and
body, two inches four lines, of tail, 0.75. inches.  RICHARDSON's animal was
according to his description, dark brownish grey above, and grey beneath.
Length of head and body two inches three lines, tail one inch.