English: Pigmy shrew (Sorex minutus) Français : Musaraigne pygmée (Sorex minutus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One day in autumn last year my daughter let out a ferocious scream from the end of the hallway in our house. A huge spider had just run underneath the door to her bedroom. Being the resident chief (i.e. only) spider catcher, it would be up to me to rectify the situation. That is, put it out. This was “the biggest spider I ever saw” according to the witness. But just how big could it be? I dismissed her reaction. Maybe in another part of the world but this is Ireland. No really big spiders live here, after all.
Now I should say that I am no fan of spiders. In fact I grew up in a house where my mother was routinely brought to hysterics at the sight of anything larger than a “money spider” (where did that name come from?) But I felt bad about killing something just because it invoked deep rooted and illogical fears. So, throughout most of my adult life, I had taken to catching them and putting them out. The catching part was usually done with the aid of an old glass cylinder that I had previously used for measuring chemicals for use in the development process of my slide photography many years ago. It also kept the contact with the spider a good 30 cms (12 inches) away from me.
I went to assess the size of the spider and as I walked down the corridor the “spider” darted from under her bedroom door, past my daughter then ran down towards me at high speed before disappearing underneath the door to the bathroom. My heart was in my mouth as I realised that this was no ordinary spider. In fact it was not a spider at all. It was bigger and yet small enough to run underneath doors. A tiny gap of no more than 6mm. (1/4 inch). My initial thoughts were that it was a mouse. Now this was a whole different problem.
Had there been a chair nearby, I am sure that I would have been first on board. But there wasn’t. Anyway, I was already successfully clinging to the ceiling with my fingernails. Keeping my feet up too was proving quite the challenge.
Some hours later, I returned from the local hardware store armed with 3 mousetraps. (To be sure to be sure to be sure! as Father Ted might have said). I loaded them with cheese and laid them out.
Fast forward several months and the “mouse” had not yet been caught. It was very clean. There were never any signs of droppings. At times I wondered if he had gone out again. Probably using his own set of keys. It used to disappear for several days with no sightings before eventually returning to haunt us again. However, we did have one breakthrough. We had gotten a better view of it and now had reclassified it as a pygmy shrew. A tiny rodent measuring just about 2.5 cm’s or 1 inch. We even named him Martin. Despite this, that didn’t change his “welcome” status. We wanted him gone.
Now, a pygmy shrew is a protected species in Ireland but before we had identified him, he had successfully eaten the cheese and meat “bait” from the jaws of the mousetraps without setting them off. So I procured a “live trap“. This is a clever device that tempts the critter in to dine heartily then closes behind him. Catching him alive and unharmed and facilitating his release to the wild. Great.
Only that didn’t catch him either. But he does like cheese. Perhaps I should have left some wine for him too.
Some further research on PS’s identified the problem. The little critter weighs no more than a 10 cent coin. And that’s in Summer when they are almost twice their winter weight. So I had to “build a better mousetrap“. OK. Pygmy Shrew trap. Whatever.
As you can see from the picture, I worked on changing the weighting balance to make the trap spring closed with a tiny change in weight. With a AAA battery stuck on one end with Blu Tack and the other end kept open with two coins (both were needed) I placed the trap back in his usual haunts and waited.
Within two hours there was success!
Martin was relocated some 2000 or so “mouse miles”/kilometres away in open countryside, having enjoyed his first, albeit restricted, trip in a car. He was obviously still enjoying the cheese as he was somewhat reluctant to leave the trap when opened and had to be coaxed out before scurrying away to follow his own adventures elsewhere.
I do hope that he is enjoying his new found freedom. I can’t quite say that I’ll miss him though.
I hope that this proves useful information to anyone else trying to catch a pygmy shrew. It was quite a challenge.