Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Don't be a shrew--The Quote of the Week

This from a wonderful book called The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature by a biologist named David George Haskell. The book is filled with scientific/poetic details on the marvels and interconnectedness to be found in a patch of old growth Tennessee forest.

But nature has its nasty bits as well, and they can make for some pretty riveting reading. Catching a glimpse of a shrew on an early spring morning, Haskell tells us a bit about the little mammal that Shakespeare made famous:

"Shrews live short, violent lives. Only one on ten survives longer than a year; the rest get burned out by their furious metabolism. Shrews breathe so frantically that they cannot survive long aboveground. Their outrageously rapid breathing would dessicate and kill them in the dry air.

Shrews feed by snapping at prey then chewing poisonous saliva into their victims, sometimes killing the animal they have caught, sometimes paralyzing it for storage in a dungeon of horrors, a larder of living but incapacitated prey...

The soil's food web reaches its zenith in the shrew. Only owls will eat shrews; everything else gives them a wide berth, fearing their vicious teeth or the acrid taste of their scent glands.

There is kinship with humans here. The first mammals were shrew-like creatures terrorizing the snails and centipedes of the Mesozoic. Our ancestors were shrill and vicious, leading a caffeinated existence in dark corridors. An analogy with our current state of being is tempting. Thankfully we've lost the poison fangs and pungent glands."

And people think vampires are scary?

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