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least shrew

Fact File

Scientific Name: Cryptotis parva parva

Classification: Mammalia, Order Eulipotyphla, Family Soricidae

Size: 2-4 inches

Life Span: 1 year

Identifying Characteristics

The native least shrew resembles a miniature short-tailed shrew with a smaller size of 2 3/4 to3 5/8 inches and weighing 4-5 grams. It is cinnamon in color, and has a short tail and may be distinguished from all other shrews by these traits. The breeding season is from March-November during which time, several litters of 2-7 young each are produced. This species exhibits little aggressive behavior and is very social, which is very unusual among the shrews. It is active day and night, and eats insects and other small animals. It may eat more than its own weight in food each day. It nests under debris or beneath the surface of the ground, sometimes in beehives. As many as 31 have been found in 1 nest in the winter. They rely heavily on smell and hearing to find their food. This species is found with Blarina, Peromyscus, Oryzomys palustris, Microtus pennsylvanicus, and in the runways of Synaptomys copperi stonei. This shrew has been known to live almost two years in captivity but in the wild is heavily preyed upon by owls.


The least shrew is a wetlands rodent. They prefer a habitat of open areas such as fields and meadows with grassy cover and scattered brush. This species is common in marshes of coastal Virginia and associated with saltmarsh grass (Distichlis spicata), Spartina alternifolia, and grasswort (Salicornia europea).


The smaller a mammal is the more it eats per unit of its body weight; the least shrew is no outlier. they eat 60-100% of their body weight every day! This shrew usually feeds on insects of a great variety but typically they eat insect larvae and centipedes. To hunt they use their sense of touch to find their prey which they then immobilize by attacking their victims joints in order to impede escape.


This species occurs statewide, but is not often seen. It as a species is most common in the east coast but occur from New York to Florida and halfway across the continent westwards. Some populations have even been spotted in South America from Mexico to Panama.

A social animal

Least shrews are social animals! They form large colonies of up to 31 individuals which dig their tunnels together, assist each other in raising the children and defend their home range from intruders and even share food given they caught something big enough.

Did you know?

These little guys are very vocal emitting high pitched squeaks and clicks which often are inaudible to people (especially adults!) They use these sounds to echolocate within their underground burrows.

Role in the Web of Life

Because they burrow beneath the soil this is one of the many species that is vital to aerating the soil and also due to their dietary habits this species is a phenomenal at mitigating insect populations leading them to be quite useful to people especially those who specialize in agriculture as they remove pests and maintain soils.


Ohl, A. and C. Kent 2012. “Cryptotis parva” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 18, 2023 at

Updated 2023: Mara Snyder

Last updated: November 29, 2023

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