The Case of the Unbroken Shrew

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Featuring a very unusual tibia...

Curators’ Casebook is our ongoing series in which we look at some of the curious cases USGS curators at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History deal with on a regular basis. Check back every month for a new case!

The common shrew has been maligned for centuries. After all, if someone describes you as “shrewish,” it’s not a compliment, right? It usually means you’re someone who complains a lot; gets caught up in the small things. Well, it’s time to set the record straight.

Image shows black and white side-by-side images of shrew leg bones
To the left, a normal shrew leg. To the right, the strange leg bone sent in. Credit: Neal Woodman, USGS.

USGS scientist Neal Woodman, one of the mammal collection curators at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, was sent some strange shrew bones. One of them was a lot shorter and denser than the other.Kind of weird-looking, right? Well, turns out that’s not the half of it. Woodman turned one of the Smithsonian’s x-ray machines on the bones and revealed something surprising:

Image shows a side-by-side image of x-rays of shrew leg bones
Again, to the left, a normal shrew leg. To the right, the strange leg bone sent in. Credit: Neal Woodman, USGS.

Yep, that’s a break. The bone was broken so badly that the two pieces ended up perpendicular to each other. And then the bone refused! And the shrew didn’t die! Or at least, not because of its leg. It lived for quite some time after that, and appears to have died of old age.

So remember that next time you complain about stubbing your toe. The shrew has no sympathy.

Read Woodman’s report here.

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