American water shrew (Sorex palustris)


The water shrew is the largest long-tailed shrew in the eastern United States, having an approximate total length of 6 inches and weighing 12-18 grams. It is easily distinguishable from other shrews of the region by it’s large, webbed hindfeet that are fringed with bristle-like hairs. This adaptation helps it swim and dive for prey in mountain streams and it has even been seen running on top of the water! It has a glossy gray-black dorsum, silvery-buff underparts, whitish forepaws and feet, and long, sharply bi-colored tail. The water shrew breeds from February to August and they produce two to three litters of three to ten young each. They are active both day and night, and are most often found on the banks of running streams. This species is listed as endangered in Virginia and is a federal species of concern. The main predators of this species are trout and bass in the water and weasels on the shore.


The general distribution of the water shrew in this region is the southern Appalachians. Virginia sites are high elevation headwater streams characterized by rocks and boulders, debris dams, and overhanging banks. They use borrowed burrows for their nests, and are always found near water.


Predominantly immature and mature stages of aquatic insects, various other animals (notably small fish and snails), some fungus and plant material. 050010