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Shrew Culture, Myths, Stories and Poisonous Facts...
Stories about Shrews

Encounter with an African Forest Shrew
By Gerald Durrell© 1958

The following text is taken from:
Gerald Durrell. Encounters with Animals. The courtships, feuds and carryings on of a lively globe-full of loveable creatures.
Avon Books, New York, 1970. (Avon V2366)
(Copyright 1958 by Gerald Durell. Published by arrangement with John Cushman Associates, Inc.)
Shrew Excerpt (p. 24-25).

The Black Bush
Africa (...). If you ever manage to penetrate the twining creepers, the thorns and undergrowth (...), you find that every bush shakes and quivers with a mass of wild life waiting its chance to leap out at you ...
Once during my lunch break I witnessed an extraordinary comedy that was performed almost, I felt, for my special benefit. On the tree-trunk where I was sitting, not six feet away, out of a tangle of thick undergrowth, up over the bark of the trunk, there glided slowly and laboriously and ever regally a giant land-snail, the size of an apple. I watched it as I ate, fascinated by the way the snail's body glided over the bark, apparently without any muscular effort whatever, and the way its horns with the round, rather surprised eyey on top, twisted this way and that as it picked its route through the miniature landscape of toadstools and moss. Suddenly I realised that as long as the snail was making its slow and rather vague progress along the trunk it was leaving behind it the usual glistening trail, and this trail was followed by one of the most ferocious and bloodthirsty animal, for its size, to be found in the West African forest.

The twining convolvulus was thrust aside, and out on to the log strutted a tiny creature only as long as a cigarette, clad in jet-black fur and with a long slender nose that it kept glued to the snail's track, like a miniature black hound. It was one of the forest's shrews, whose courage is incredible and whose appetite is prodigious and insatiable. If anything lives to eat, this forest shrew does.

They will even in a moment of peckishness think nothing of eating one another. Chittering to himself, the shrew trotted rapidly after the snail and every soon overtook it. Uttering a high-pitched squeak, it flung itself on that portion of the snail which protruded from the rear of the shell and sank its teeth into it. The snail, finding itself so suddenly and unceremoniously attacked from the rear, did the only possible thing and drew its body rapidly back inside its shell. This movement was performed so swiftly and the muscular contraction of the snail was so strong, that as the tail disappeared inside the shell the shrew's face was banged against it and his grip was broken. The shell, having now nothing to balance it, fell on its side, and the shrew, screaming with frustration, rushed forward and plunged his head into the interior, in an effort to retrieve the retreating mollusc. However, the snail was prepared for his attack and as soon as the shrew's head was pushed into the opening of the shell it was greeted by a sudden fountain of greenish-white froth that bubbled out and enveloped nose and head. The shrew leapt back with surprise, knocking against the shell as it did so. The snail teetered for a moment and then rolled sideways and dropped into the undergrowth beneath the log. The shrew meanwhile was sitting on its hind legs, almost incoherent with rage, sneezing violently and trying to wipe the froth from its face with its paws. The whole thing was so ludicrous that I started to laugh, and the shrew, casting a hasty and frightened glance in my direction, leapt down into the undergrowth and hurried away. It was not often during the forest's siesta-time that I could enjoy such a scene as this.
(Gerald Durrell. - Encounters with Animals. The courtships, feuds and carryings on of a lively globe-full of loveable creatures. Avon Books, New York, 1970. )

Further Readings:
"Gerald Durrell, The Authorised Biography" by Douglas Botting, published 1999 by Harper Collins, is a stunning biography, hard to put down. Durrell was a self-taught biologist-zoologist-conservationist. Much insight into early conservation work and a great read. Very inspiring. 644 pages.
Also see: Biography
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