Ireland, which has seen an immigration surge in recent years, has a new foreigner on its shores, scientists said Monday: the greater white-toothed shrew.
The mammal, Crocidura Russula, has been discovered in parts of the midlands and south-west of the republic. Its natural range is in parts of Africa, France and Germany.
Professor Ian Montgomery, head of the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University in Belfast, says the animal is likely to have been introduced recently to Ireland and the discovery of a new mammal species in Ireland is extremely rare.
“Most species which occur in Ireland also occur in Britain but the nearest this species of shrew has been found is on the Channel Islands and the Scilly Isles.”
He said the discovery was probably the result of an accidental introduction from “continental Europe to Ireland and has resulted in a rapid increase in numbers over a short period”.
The shrew, which has been spotted in Counties Tipperary and Limerick, is only the third new mammal to be found on the island in almost 60 years.
The presence of the new immigrant came to light when Dave Tosh, from Queen’s University, was studying the diet of the Barn Owl while working with University College Cork and BirdWatch Ireland.
Analysing owl pellets (regurgitated food remains) sent to him by John Lusby, Birdwatch’s barn owl research officer, Tosh began to find large shrew skulls, too big to be the skulls of Ireland’s native pygmy shrew.
Last month, the presence of the greater white-toothed shrews was confirmed when seven were trapped at four locations in Tipperary.
The discovery now raises issues of ecological impact and control.
The scientists say that while the new shrew is likely to sustain threatened birds of prey including the barn owl, it could lead to the loss of small native mammals including the pygmy shrew. – ap