Thursday, 5 July 2012

Tiny shrews ‘warm up’ before cold dives


Thumb-sized shrews "warm up" their bodies before taking the plunge into cold water, according to researchers.
Scientists investigated how the shrews, known as the smallest diving mammals, coped with the challenges of diving.
Larger mammals are known to boost their chances of finding prey by staying cool to save energy and dive for as long as possible.
But the shrews raised their body temperature by up to 1.5C and took shorter dives in cold water.
"They were completely contrary to what we predicted," said Dr Kevin Campbell from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada who presented the research at the Society for Experimental Biology's annual conference.
In the past, research into diving ability in mammals has focused on large species including seals and penguins.
But Dr Campbell and his colleagues wanted to look at the other end of the scale. They spent over a decade working with tiny American water shrews (Sorex palustris), which weigh a maximum of 17g.
The thumb-sized animals are known for their voracious appetite, consuming their entire body weight in prey every day in order to survive, and Dr Campbell described them as "the most effective, ruthless predators I have ever seen".


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