Teeny Weeny and His Cousin
"OF course Old Mother Nature knows, but just the same it is hard for me not to believe that Teeny Weeny is a member of the Mouse family," said Happy Jack Squirrel to Peter Rabbit, as they scampered along to school. "I never have had a real good look at him, but I've had glimpses of him lots of times and always supposed him a little Mouse with a short tail. It is hard to believe that he isn't."
"I hope Old Mother Nature will put him where we can get a good look at him," replied Peter. "Perhaps when you really see him he won't look so much like a Mouse."
When all had arrived Old Mother Nature began the morning lesson at once. "You have learned about all the families in the order of Rodents," said she, "so now we will take up another and much smaller order called Insectivora. I wonder if any of you can guess what that means." "It sounds," said Peter Rabbit, "as if it must have something to do with insects."
"That is a very good guess, Peter," replied Old Mother Nature, smiling at him. "It does have to do with insects. The members of this order live very largely on insects and worms, and the name Insectivora means insect-eating. There are two families in this order, the Shrew family and the Mole family."
"Then Teeny Weeny and Miner the Mole must be related," spoke Peter quickly.
"Right again, Peter," was the prompt reply. "The Shrews and the Moles are related in the same way that you and Happy Jack Squirrel are related."
"And isn't Teeny Weeny the Shrew related to the Mice at all?" asked Happy Jack.
"Not at all," said Old Mother Nature. "Many people think he is and often he is called Shrew Mouse. But this is a great mistake. It is the result of ignorance. It seems strange to me that people so often know so little about their near neighbors." She looked at Happy Jack Squirrel as she said this, and Happy Jack looked sheepish. He felt just as he looked. All this time the eyes of every one had been searching this way, that way, every way, for Teeny Weeny, for Old Mother Nature had promised to try to have him there that morning. But Teeny Weeny was not to be seen. Now and then a leaf on the ground close by Old Mother Nature's feet moved, but the Merry Little Breezes were always stirring up fallen leaves, and no one paid any attention to these.
Old Mother Nature understood the disappointment in the faces before her and her eyes began to twinkle. "Yesterday I told you that I would try to have Teeny Weeny here," said she. A leaf moved. Stooping quickly she picked it up. "And here he is," she finished.
Sure enough where a second before the dead brown leaf had been was a tiny little fellow, so tiny that that leaf had covered him completely, and it wasn't a very big leaf. It was Teeny Weeny the Shrew, also called the Common Shrew, the Long-tailed Shrew and the Shrew Mouse, one of the smallest animals in all the Great World. He started to dart under another leaf, but Old Mother Nature stopped him. "Sit still," she commanded sharply. "You have nothing to fear. I want everybody to have a good look at you, for it is high time these neighbors of yours should know you. I know just how nervous and uncomfortable you are and I'll keep you only a few minutes. Now everybody take a good look at Teeny Weeny."
This command was quite needless, for all were staring with all their might. What they saw was a mite of a fellow less than four inches long from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail, and of this total length the tail was almost half. He was slender, had short legs and mouselike feet. His coat was brownish above and grayish beneath, and the fur was very fine and soft.
But the oddest thing about Teeny Weeny was his long, pointed head ending in a long nose. No Mouse has a head like it. The edges of the ears could be seen above the fur, but the eyes were so tiny that Peter Rabbit thought he hadn't any and said so.
Old Mother Nature laughed. "Yes, he has eyes, Peter," said she. "Look closely and you will see them. But they don't amount to much—little more than to tell daylight from darkness. Teeny Weeny depends on his nose chiefly. He has a very wonderful little nose, flexible and very sensitive. Of course, with such poor eyes he prefers the dark when there are fewer enemies abroad."
All this time Teeny Weeny had been growing more and more uneasy. Old Mother Nature saw and understood. Now she told him that he might go. Hardly were the words out of her mouth when he vanished, darting under some dead leaves. Hidden by them he made his way to an old log and was seen no more.
"Doesn't he eat anything but insects and worms?" asked Striped Chipmunk.
"Yes," replied Old Mother Nature. "He is very fond of flesh, and if he finds the body of a bird or animal that has been killed he will tear it to pieces. He is very hot-tempered, as are all his family, and will not hesitate to attack a Mouse much bigger than himself. He is so little and so active that he has to have a great deal of food and probably eats his own weight in food every day. Of course, that means he must do a great deal of hunting, and he does.
"He makes tiny little paths under the fallen leaves and in swampy places—little tunnels through the moss. He is especially fond of old rotted stumps and logs and brush piles, for in such places he can find grubs and insects. At the same time he is well hidden. He is active by day and night, but in the daytime takes pains to keep out of the light. He prefers damp to dry places. In winter he tunnels about under the snow. In summer he uses the tunnels and runways of Meadow Mice and others when he can. He eats seeds and other vegetable food when he cannot find insects or flesh."
"How about his enemies?" asked Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
"He has plenty," replied Old Mother Nature, "but is not so much hunted as the members of the Mouse family. This is because he has a strong, unpleasant scent which makes him a poor meal for those at all particular about their food. Some of the Hawks and Owls appear not to mind this, and these are his worst enemies."
"Has he any near relatives?" asked Jumper the Hare.
"Several," was the prompt response. "Blarina the Short-tailed Shrew, also called Mole Shrew, is the best known. He is found everywhere, in forests, old pastures and along grassy banks, but seldom far from water. He prefers moist ground. He is much larger and thicker than Teeny Weeny and has a shorter tail. People often mistake him for Miner the Mole, because of the thick, fine fur which is much like Miner's and his habit of tunneling about just beneath the surface, but if they would look at his fore feet they would never make that mistake. They are small and like the feet of the Mouse family, not at all like Miner's big shovels. Moreover, he is smaller than Miner, and his tunnels are seldom in the earth but just under the leaves and grass.
"His food is much the same as that of Teeny Weeny—worms, insects, flesh when he can get it, and seeds. He is fond of beechnuts. He is quite equal to killing a Mouse of his own size or bigger and does not hesitate to do so when he gets the chance. He makes a soft, comfortable nest under a log or in a stump or in the ground and has from four to six babies at a time. Teeny Weeny sometimes has as many as ten. The senses of smell and hearing are very keen and make up for the lack of sight. His eyes, like those of other Shrews, are probably of use only in distinguishing light from darkness. His coat is dark brownish-gray.
"Another of the Shrew family is the Marsh Shrew, also called Water Shrew and Black-and-white Shrew. He is longer than either of the others and, as you have guessed, is a lover of water. He is a good swimmer and gets much of his food in the water—water Beetles and grubs and perhaps Tadpoles and Minnows. Now who among you knows Miner the Mole?"
"I do. That is, I have seen him," replied Peter Rabbit.
"Very well, Peter, to-morrow morning we will see how much you know about Miner," replied Old Mother Nature.