Common Shrew

This is the most common European shrew. It can be found almost anywhere with low-growing vegetation to provide cover, even alongside motorways. Common shrews are very active creatures, almost constantly engaged in searching for food.

The Eurasian shrew, known simply as the common shrew in Britain, lives in damp habitats across Europe. Its range stops at the Pyrenees and the shrew does not live in Spain or Portugal or in much of southern France, where it is too dry for them. The range extends to the east as far as Lake Baikal in western Siberia.

The common shrew lives in meadows, woodlands and in broken habitats covered in rocks. It survives on mountainsides as high up as the snow line.

Common shrews live alone and forage for food at dusk and before dawn. They feed on small invertebrates and must consume 90 per cent of their body weight each day. (Being such tiny mammals, they lose body heat very quickly and therefore must eat huge amounts to stay alive.) Hibernating is not an option because the shrews could not build up enough body fat to survive the winter without feeding.

The Eurasian shrew has a tri-coloured fur coat: the back is reddish brown, the underside is pale grey and the flanks and face are brown. Young shrews have paler fur.

Common shrews produce large litters of about six young. After a couple of weeks, the young emerge from their burrow for the first time and can be seen following their mother in a "caravan". The shrews form a train, with each one holding the tail of the shrew in front. The young continue to hold on even when the mother is lifted off the ground.

Distribution: Occurs across much of northern Europe, down to the Pyrenees, but is absent from Ireland. Extends eastwards into Asia to the vicinity of Lake Baikal in Siberia.

Habitat: Woodlands, grasslands, rock fields and sand dunes.

Weight: 5 - 14 g (0.18 - 0.49 oz).

Length: 7.2 - 12.4 cm (2.8 - 4.9 in) overall; tail is about half the body length.

Maturity: By 3.5 months; early-born young may breed in the year of their birth.

Gestation Period: 24 days; 1 - 4 litters a year.

Breeding: 6 - 7; weaning at around 23 days.

Food: Various terrestrial invertebrates, including earthworms and slugs.

Lifespan: Up to 19 months.

Status: Lower risk.

On the move

By spreading their toes apart these shrews can climb up to 3 m (10 ft).


This is thicker than the shrew’s legs, and does not taper significantly along its length.


The upperparts are dark brown-grey, with a velvety texture. The underparts are grey.


Long and pointed, this is sensitive and constantly moving to locate prey.


This ability has helped these shrews to spread over a wide area and to colonize various offshore islands throughout their range.