New mammal species discovered in Czechia

Greater white-toothed shrew

Scientists in Czechia have discovered a new species of mammal. The greater white-toothed shrew migrated to the country from North Africa and has become the 90th mammal species recorded in Czechia. Scientists say it was most likely driven to this territory by global climate change.

The greater white-toothed shrew is a small mammal resembling a mouse, with a long pointed snout and tiny eyes. However, unlike the mouse, it is carnivorous, feeding mainly on invertebrates, but occasionally also on small rodents and amphibians.

The small mammal was discovered in the Cheb region by experts from the Academy of Sciences last autumn, while collecting samples of house mice in the Cheb region in the westernmost part of the country.

Greater white-toothed shrew | Photo: Matthieu Berroneau,  Czech Academy of Sciences

After setting up live traps to attract the house mice, they accidently caught a species that had never before been seen in Czechia. During their research, they managed to trap 14 individuals of this species, says Barbora Vošlajerová, one of the members of the team:

“In total, we captured 446 small mammals, and almost 85 percent of those were rodents. Of the remaining species, there were mainly voles but also insectivores, namely shrews. It was only through a DNA analysis that we were able to distinguish 14 individuals of the greater white-toothed shrew among them.”

According to Mrs. Vošlajerová, distinguishing the greater white-toothed shrew from the four other types of shrews captured during the fieldwork was not easy, given they only weigh a few grams:

“The only way we can identify the white-toothed shrew is by looking at the tail, because its hair is sticking out on the tail. The most distinguishing feature are the teeth: the greater white-toothed shrew, as the name suggests, has white teeth, while the other shrews have rusty teeth, due to deposits of iron.”

A team of scientists from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic on a farm in Nebanice,  where Greater white-toothed shrews were also discovered | Photo: Institute of Vertebrate Biology of the Czech Academy of Sciences

The tiny carnivorous mammal first arrived in Europe from North Africa around 10,000 years ago, and has since become widespread both in the southern and western part of the continent, says Alena Fornůsková from the Institute of Vertebrate Biology of the Academy of Sciences:

“The arrival of the species is probably related to global warming, although we cannot be 100% certain. However, since the greater white-toothed shrew prefers warmer temperatures, it is quite likely that global warming is behind the acceleration of its spread.”

While the discovery of the greater white-toothed shrew in Czechia has not come as a surprise to scientists, its impact on the local environment is yet to be seen, says Mrs Fornůsková:

“We know from neighbouring countries that this shrew is behaving quite aggressively and is gradually displacing other smaller species of shrews. In Ireland, for example, it caused the local disappearance of the Eurasian pygmy shrew while in Switzerland it has displaced both of its smaller shrew species – the lesser white-toothed shrew and the bicolored shrew.”

Author: Ruth Fraňková; Karolína Burdová
run audio