News of Shrews: Hairy-tailed Species Discovered in Indonesian Canopy

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Hairy-tailed shrew, on the ground
Hairy-tailed shrew, on the groundCredit: Kevin Rowe / Museums Victoria

It is a happy day when we discover a new species that isn’t a virus, and the arboreal rodent discovered in the treetops of Indonesia is a special delight. Probably the locals knew of the scansorial beast long before, but it took an intrepid team from Louisiana State University to nail it down, as it were. And hats off to the Baton Rouge-based Division of Strategic Communications at LSU for titling the announcement of the cryptic species’ discovery “The Naming of the Shrew.”

Meet Crocidura caudipilosa, which means “hairy-tailed shrew.” Though as far as is known it’s confined to Sulawesi, the diminutive animal may not be that rare (yet): It has been spotted so far on nine of the island’s mountains at elevations between 1,500 feet to 4,800 feet.

Said shrew, unlike its terrestrially oriented brethren who may camouflage themselves as dead vegetation to hide from predators, climbs like a demon. “The scientists were also surprised to discover that this shrew climbs trees whereas most shrews live primarily on the ground, as far as anyone knows,” LSU Museum of Natural Science Mammal Curator Jake Esselstyn stated.

The newly discovered shrew is described in the Journal of Mammalogy because at least some climbed down from the trees and got caught in traps.

Caudipilosa is slender, as shrews are, with gray-brown fur on its back and silver-gray fur on its belly, quite typical of shrews. It also features the characteristic elongated shrewy snout. But its true claim to fame is its extraordinarily hairy tail, previously unknown in the Indonesian shrew set.

“Its tail is slightly longer than the combined length of its head and body and is covered with long bristles and hair, which make the distinctive tail very hirsute,” the researchers describe.

Unlike our friend the rat, shrews do have fur on their tails, but typically not much of it, in Southeast Asia. Some African shrews have hairy tails.

In other news of shrews, they live on five continents, have extraordinarily fast metabolisms and move really fast. They eat mainly insects, and a lot of them. If you manage to run down a shrew, don’t succumb to your mad enthusiasm and try to hug it. Shrews don’t like that and can give off a musk that will make you weep.

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