It's a wet Sunday morning in early June in Southeast Alaska, and we're packing up our camp after an overnight at the beach. The rainforest has lived up to its name, and as I trudge down the trail with our soggy gear, I see a tiny brown shape dart under the moss at the base of a spruce tree. A close look reveals a shrew busily rooting around in the moss. My chores are forgotten as I watch this hungry, ping-pong ball size fur ball with a long, pointed nose bustling about his search for bugs and worms. This is the smallest mammal in Alaska and weighs about as much as a nickel.
Shrews are not rodents, they are related to moles, and moles don't live in Alaska. Shrews have poor eyesight and rely on their keen sense of smell to find food. They are voracious with a fast metabolism and eat two or three times their body weight every day. That's apparent from this little guy's behavior, he is oblivious to me, and totally focused on rooting out morsels from the moss and a leaf litter. He's finding little spruce buds, which he peels before he eats, and at one point he gobbles down a small spider. Shrews eat seeds and some vegetation, but grubs, worms and insects are their bread and butter. Some species are excellent swimmers and get most of their food from streams and ponds.