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.
CHARACTERS. Body above brownish ash, cinercous beneath. Teeth black, tail short sub-cylindrical. SYNONYMES. 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. DESCRIPTION. 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. COLOUR. 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. DIMENSIONS. Inches From point of nose to root of tail, . . . . . . . 2 7/8 Tail, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3/4 HABITS. 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.