7 things you didn’t know about the water shrew

Discover fantastic facts about Britain's largest shrew.

Water shrew, Neomys fodiens, single shrew on rock by water, Warwickshire, July 2010

Water shrew © Mike Lane / iStock


1 Nasty nip

Water shrews’ saliva contains a venom that subdues their invertebrate prey. Their bite is not powerful enough to fully penetrate human skin, but they can still cause a painful rash.

2 Squeeze dry

A water shrew’s thick, water-repellent fur provides protection against the cold and wet. They are also able to shed excess water by squeezing through their tight burrows.

3 Even a keel

Stiff hairs fringe the water shrew’s feet and form a keel on the underside of its tail. Both are thought to help propel the animal in the water.

4 Home alone

Water shrews are unsociable, solitary animals that avoid contact with each other except when the males leave their territories in search of females.

5 Water worlds

Water shrews inhabit all sorts of freshwater habitats, but are particular numerous in water cress beds. They are even occasionally found on sea shores and saltmarshes.

6 Colour code

The water shrew is a member of the sub-family Soricinae, the red-toothed shrews, characterized by the colour of their teeth, which is produced by iron compounds that toughen the enamel.

7 Little and large


Weighing up to 18g, the water shrew is Britain’s largest shrew. It is three times more than the smallest, the pygmy shrew, and about the same size as a small wood mouse.