31 October 2011

Imposter In Disguise

My sister teasingly pointed out that my first mistake was assuming Jack had willingly cleaned up a mess without me pestering him to do it.

The night before I had whipped up a hearty meal, complete with sweet cornbread muffins.  As usual, half of Claire's food ended up as mashed crumbs on the floor.  It had been a long day and I hadn't tidied up as thoroughly as I generally do after meals.  I got the big chunks but small bits of cornbread still scattered across the subflooring.

After the girls dozed off, I plopped on the couch to "watch" some television (I almost always end up napping because I'm worn out).  Sliding in and out of consciousness, Jack startled me when he shook my leg, telling me he thought he just saw a mouse.

"I think it's kind of early for mice," I groggily answered.  We hadn't had any frost yet and our neighboring farmer hadn't harvested.  I figured he'd imagined something had been there.  It was getting late and he looked tired too.

The next morning I rose with the girls.  Jack was still curled up under the sheets so we started breakfast without him.  I scooted Claire's high chair back to the dining room table and noticed the floor was immaculate--not a morsel of food to be found.

I yelled upstairs, "Thanks for cleaning up, Jack!"  He had come upstairs a few minutes after I had.

There was a brief pause.

"I didn't!"

My heart dropped.  Jack hadn't hallucinated after all.

Before sacking out, we baited a snap trap with chunky peanut butter and laid it against the wall and under the high chair, hoping really that the culprit had their fill and had left the premises.

To my surprise the next morning, the trap had worked, but it was an imposter in disguise.

It wasn't a field mouse at all.  It was a shrew.
Source
More specifically, a Northern short-tailed shrew.  These critters are really quite interesting.  They've got tiny eyes and are semi-burrowing, have voracious appetites and as a group, have the highest brain to body mass ratio of all mammals.  Some shrew species even use echolocation or are venomous.

I had seen one other shrew in our house and he had shown up last winter.  A full grown adult, he had snuck in through an inconspicuous hole in the baseboard behind the computer.  I set up a peanut butter rigged snap trap and watched him go after the peanut butter.  Twice.  His neck was so thick it probably barely gave him a headache.  The second whack convinced him to leave and I filled in the hole with steal wool and expanding foam to discourage any other "guests."

Anyway, the poor little fellow who had cleaned up the cornbread crumbs was just a youngin' and had not survived the blow.  I always feel a smidgen of pity for the creatures but I'm not about to invite them in to stay.

It turned out I was right:  too early for field mice.  Just not too early for shrews.

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