Elected species to highlight importance of clean waters
A water shrew that hunts underwater has been named Animal of 2016 by Swiss environmental organisation Pro Natura. The Eurasian water shrew (Neomys fodiens) received this honour due to its ability to swim, as the organisation focuses its advocacy efforts this year on clean water spaces free from pollution, pesticides and fertilisers.
The Eurasian water shrew, also known as the red-toothed shrew, is the largest of eleven native shrew species in Switzerland. It measures about six to ten centimetres (not counting the tail) and weighs 10 to 20 grams. The fur on their back and sides is greyish black, while their underside has light-coloured fur. Although it resembles a mouse, it is more closely related to moles and hedgehogs.
When hunting for food, the Eurasian water shrew dives into clean, oxygen-rich rivers where a richly stocked underwater buffet awaits, offering a spread of insect larvae, small crustaceans, snails, mussels and small fish. It scampers amidst stones and rocks, poking underneath them with its pointed, versatile snout. Although its rapid actions are delightful to watch, this cute persona is misleading, especially for prey which are quickly killed by the animal's poisonous saliva.
The water shrew lives in ponds, creeks and marshes in Switzerland, northern Europe and parts of Asia. Areas with dense vegetation, eroded ground, tree roots or stone blocks provide the animal with sufficient cover from the barn owl, heron, weasel and fox – its natural predators.
Unfortunately, nature cannot protect it against a less obvious threat – that of pesticides in the water. These originate from agricultural activities on land. In Switzerland, around 2,000 tonnes of such substances are used in fields, pastures, meadows, vineyards and orchards. The rain causes a portion of this to end up as groundwater which find their way into small and medium-sized rivers.
In electing the Eurasian water shrew as the Animal of 2016, Pro Natura is calling for less pesticide use and a ban on those pesticides associated with serious environmental and health risks.
Further Information: www.pronatura.ch