I'm Marty Stouffer. Because of its appearance, the little Shrew is often thought of as a kind of mouse. In fact, it doesn't even belong to the Rodent family.
CLOSE-UP OF SHREW
Tinier than any other American mammal, the smallest Shrew weighs less than a dime. It can crawl through a Beetle's burrow. Some are able to swim, even walk on water. But all have one thing in common, an almost insatiable appetite.
This creature is a living relic. It's thought that it is closely related to the animal from which all mammals have descended. Let's explore the life of "The Incredible Shrew".
Of all mammals in America, the Shrew is the most common and the most vicious.
WOLVES, BEARS, LIONS ...
Wolves are less savage. Bears less ferocious. Lions less voracious. Caribou less active.
SHREW EATING RODENT
Through the ages, Shrews have acquired a bad reputation. Called bloodthirsty gluttons, they devour their victims, bones and all at an alarming rate. There's not much time to groom or rest before the Shrew must eat again.
Some Shrews hunt under water. Some, in termite-infested logs. All are constantly driven by the demands of a high metabolism.
How could higher primates like the Gorilla or Sifaka be related to this Asiatic Tree Shrew? Scientists believe that 70 million years ago, these mammals all had a common ancestor, and this Shrew was the evolutionary link between them.
FILM CLIP OF "THE KILLER SHREW"
Shrews emit what appear to be squeals of joy as they kill. Such sounds have always stimulated human imagination, but never more than in the 1959 science fiction movie "The Killer Shrews."
"Have you ever heard of a Shrew?"
"As in Taming of the" "Well, then, Shrew must be the common name for those cute little animals."
"Cute? That's the last word you can use to describe those little monsters. They're the most horrible animals on the face of the earth."
"The wildest and most vicious of all animals is the tiny Shrew. He must eat his own body weight every few hours or starve. And the Shrew devours everything, bones, flesh, marrow, everything. In March, there were reports of a new species, the giant killer Shrew."
Of course, Hollywood Shrews are the only ones suspected of dining on people. Most real Shrews went underground long ago in search of insects and earthworms.
Their high-pitched squeaks are not squeals of joy, but rather radar-like sounds that bounce in a pattern, and indicate the presence of predator or prey.
When two Shrews come into conflict over food or territory, they battle. Such encounters may lead to death and cannibalism. This time, neither Shrew is hurt.
In less than a month, these babies will fend for themselves. Then, instinctively, they, too will follow the same ritual to establish territorial imperatives.
Fortunately for the Water Shrew, Brook Trout also enact a ritual fixed in their genetic memory.
In mid-winter, an abundance of eggs arelaid and fertilized. The eggs gleam like a cache of rare pearls while inside, cells divide and divide again.
WATER SHREW/UNDERWATER CLOSE-UP
From the beginning of time, water has signaled a dependable source of food where the hungry are certain to gather. No animal gets hungrier than the Shrew. The Water Shrew has developed a remarkable capacity for searching out prey beneath the surface.
Its rudder-like tail steers between rocks. Bristle-like hairs line the feet for a quick getaway. Down-like fur prevents water from touching its body. Were it not for this insulation, the Water Shrew would die of cold. No other mammal loses heat at a faster rate. Without capacity for storing fat, a Shrew can go only a few hours without food before starving to death.
Dive after dive, the Shrew continues its search for young trout. If you had to eat as much as a Shrew does to stay alive, you would consume two Pigs, thirty Chickens, three hundred eggs, fifty pears, three pineapples and twenty candy bars every day. It is survival, not greed, that dictates the lifestyle.
WATER OUZEL/OTTER FISHING
The Shrew is not the only animal aware of the young fish. A Water Ouzel shares both the Shrew's taste for Trout, and also its hunting technique. Baby Trout are a powerful lure for both Shrew and Ouzel. But a full-grown Otter seems more inclined to want a full-grown dinner.
ALASKAN BEAR FISHING
And at the very top of the food chain, the largest carnivore in the world, the size of 150,000 Shrews, needs the largest fish it can catch.
TRANSITION TO SUNSET
For the Short-tailed Shrew of America's southeastern forest, survival means chemical warfare. Full grown, this Shrew weighs only eight grams, a little more than a quarter.
The courage to attack a Deer Mouse several times its size is bolstered by the Shrew's poisonous bite. An unguarded moment, a quick nip on the tail, and the outcome is set.
The Short-tailed Shrew's venom is similar to that of a Cobra. It numbs the victim quickly to a dazed state, enabling the Shrew to inflict a painless death.
In life's endless cycle, one creature's exit is often little more than a cue for another's entrance.
The Shrew's exceptionally fast pulse and metabolic rate have long been known. My brother, Mark Stouffer, supervises an electrocardiogram which provides dramatic proof. Over one thousand beats per minute, the Shrew will burn out in less than one year. This is a human readout; this is the Shrew's. Following the experiment, Mark releases the Shrew back into its woodland home.
It takes a lot to stoke the Shrew's tiny furnace. And its favorite fuel is man's ancient enemy, the insect. A colony of destructive termites can turn our proudest buildings to sawdust. Living protozoa in the termite's digestive system break down otherwise indigestible wood cellules, turning them into food.
SHREW IN LOG
The Shrew reminds us that man has living allies equipped by nature to control insect hoards, perhaps more efficiently and safely than insecticides.
TRANSITION TO ANIMATION/AFRICA
Half a world away, in Africa, are some amazing relatives of America's Shrews. The African Hero Shrew forages through rock slides for its insect supply, thanks to a back that can bear 160 pounds.
The African Elephant Shrew is not a true Shrew. Though the facial resemblance is undeniable. Luckily for the Sand Cat stalking it, neither is a true Elephant.
To the Sand Cat, the Shrew's origin is far less interesting than its destination.
HUMANS ON SAFARI
Among the ranks of the world's greatest predator, there are those who openly declare that a hunter is no hunter at all without having bagged the animals known in Africa as the big five.
In America, their targets include Wolves, big Cats, in fact, any animal large enough or dangerous enough to make humans imagine themselves heroes for hunting them. It is not surprising that among the most endangered species in the world are the ten largest.
In a world where giants are targets, it may be far better to be small and alive. So small that dandelions look like exotic trees; pine cones, like scales on a Dinosaur; fruits, leaves and flowers, magnified botanical giants. And where a threatening Badger seems as large as an Elephant.
A fugitive Mouse blundering into the Shrew's underground home does not find refuge, but a snapping ball of fur, driving it steadily back toward the surface.
HAWK/TRANSITION TO NIGHT - SEA
No way of knowing that a quick retreat leads only to sudden death. While high above, another sharp-eyed observer waits for its chance at the nearly sightless Shrew.
The moon exerts its mysterious and eternal power over the vastness of our waters. It controls the ebb and flow of tides. If we feel connected with these rolling depths, it's because the percentage of salt in our blood is exactly the same.
No one felt the ebb and flow of the tide within more strongly than the poet Langdon Smith:
"When you were a tadpole and I was a fish,
In the Paleozoic time, and side by side on the ebbing tide,
We sprawled through the ooze and slime.
The aeons came and the aeons fled,
And the sleep that wrapped us fast was driven away in
a newer day, and the night of death was past.
Past life by life and love by love,
We passed through the cycle strange.
And breath by breath and death by death,
We followed the chain of change."
In that chain of change, some mammals found the sea more hospitable than land. It's hard to imagine that the largest animal ever to live on earth, the 150 ton Blue Whale, shares a common ancestor with the Shrew. This present-day Shrew most closely resembles that 200 million-year-old common ancestor the first mammal.
One must only glance at the mammalian family tree to see the rich variety of life the line has produced. Though differing greatly in appearance, all are air breathing. Even ocean mammals like Whales and Seals have in common: hair, live birth, and of course, mammary glands, from which the family takes its name.
The mammals that fascinate us most are the primates. Man and non-human primates are closely related. Both share similarities of blood and cell structure. Both share tremendous brain growth and highly developed stereo scopic vision. And both have the ability to grasp with an opposing thumb.
In its native African forest, the Gorilla is one of four animals comprising the Ape family. Others are the Orangutan of Borneo, the Gibbon of Asia, a supreme acrobat able to grasp with both hands and feet; and the African Chimpanzee.
Second to man, Monkeys are the most successful of primates. Physically smaller than great Apes, they represent an earlier, less specialized phase in the line.
Successful tree living, coupled with remarkable adaptability to food sources, has led to an enormous variety of species. One needn't be a scientist to feel a thrill of recognition when seeing the miniature hands of a Tarsier. These small creatures belong to the Prosimians, the most primitive of all primates.
Another nocturnal Prosimian is the captivating Bush Baby of central Africa. It shares with its larger relative, the Greater Galago, an ability to grasp and to perceive a three dimensional world.
Off the coast of Mozambique lies the exotic island of Madagascar, home of the seldom seen Sifaka.
Madagascar is the last refuge for some of our rarest and most endangered primates, a group of Prosimians found nowhere else on earth. Named by natives for their unmistakable cry, the Sifaka is only one member of a group known as Lemurs. Lemurs come in a seemingly endless variety of color and size.
The Latin word "Lemur" means ghost, and considering the Lemur's dwindling numbers, ghosts they may soon become. For on the island of Madagascar, the product of over 50 million years of Lemur evolution is being wiped out in but a millisecond of geologic time.
Man-made fires to clear land for agriculture have destroyed most of the native forest and over ninety percent of the Lemur population.
ASIATIC TREE SHREW
In the tropical forest of southeast Asia, the Asiatic Tree Shrew is lured from the safety of branches to search for food on the ground. In an instant, the hunter becomes the hunted. The Shrew's sudden death on the ground may explain why some primates stayed in trees.
Two hundred million years ago, the earth still trembled to the tread of the mighty Dinosaur. But after a one hundred million year reign, the age of the giants was finally coming to an end. Seventy million years ago, vast climatic changes brought the tropical rain forest of earth to full flower. The climate changed, but the Dinosaurs did not, and the mighty giants came to extinction. As they left, one small Shrew-like creature entered upon the scene, destined to evolve into the first primate.
It's a long way through the ages, and the chain of change is felt throughout. Thumbs appeared. Bones changed. Brains became larger. Vision improved. Finally, a creature that walked upright on two legs.
HUMANS - MODERN TO TRIBAL
Did man also evolve this way, as most scientists believe? Or did we emerge from underground or fall from the sky according to Native American legend? Were we created exactly as we are in the Garden of Eden?
Or did we arrive, fully human, from elsewhere in the Universe? Regardless of how we came to be here, our varied understandings only point beyond our limited knowledge toward a far greater Universal Power of which all things are a part.
TREE SHREW - ANIMATION
From the tiniest of all Mammals, the Shrew, up through the chain to the most advanced primate, the touch of this Creator is clearly upon all Creation.
Every living species is the product of millions of years of evolutionary change. To remove a single living form from the chain brings an end to untold future generations. Did we humans have Shrew-like ancestors 70 million years ago? Well, no one knows. But we do know that because this tiny mammal has endured we are at least given a hint of where we came from and where we may be going, all thanks to "The Incredible Shrew".
I'm Marty Stouffer. Until next time, enjoy our WILD AMERICA.