Sorex alpinusalpine shrew

Geographic Range

Sorex alpinus is endemic to Europe and lives in isolated patches throughout the Alps, Balkans, Carpathians, and numerous other mountain ranges in central Europe. Its range overlaps geographically and ecologically with those of Sorex araneus, Sorex minutus, and Neomys fodiens. ("Alpine Shrew", 2004; Corbet, 1966; Corbet, 1978; Hutterer, et al., 2010; Spitzenberger, 1996; Spitzenberger, 1999; Stone, 1995; van den Brink, 1968)


Sorex alpinus lives in various mountain ranges throughout central Europe from 200 m to 2500 m in elevation. Although its name suggests otherwise, S. alpinus is not often found in the alpine zone (i.e., above tree line). Rather, it primarily lives in montane coniferous woodlands below rocks, branches, or in dense plant growth. Individuals living above tree line are often found between rocks or in holes. At lower elevations, where it is very humid, S. alpinus resides in shaded, densely vegetated valley environments. ("Alpine Shrew", 2004; "Comparison of Species- Shrews", 1990; Corbet, 1966; Hutterer, et al., 2010; Murariu and Benedek, 2005; Spitzenberger, 1999; Stone, 1995; van den Brink, 1968)

  • Range elevation
    200 to 2500 m
    656.17 to 8202.10 ft

Physical Description

Sorex alpinus has slate-colored, near-black fur on its dorsum, while its venter is gray-brown. Its feet are hairless, and its head and body length range from 6.0 cm to 7.7 cm. Its limbs are white, and it has a long, pointed muzzle. It has small, rounded, pink ears; small, black eyes; big, white hind feet; and red-tipped teeth. Both sexes possess lateral scent glands. Tail length ranges from 5.4 cm to 7.5 cm, making its tail nearly as long as its body. The tail is covered in short hair. The dorsal surface is essentially black and the ventral surface is light yellow. Sorex alpinus has five plantar pads on its feet, as opposed to six commonly found in in other shrews). Its weight ranges from 5.5 g to 11.5 g. The physical appearance of S. alpinus is similar to that of S. araneus and S. minutus, but its long tail and darker fur distinguishes S. alpinus from these two species. Sexual dimorphism has not been documented in this species. ("Alpine Shrew", 2004; "Comparison of Species- Shrews", 1990; Corbet, 1966; Hutterer, 1982; Murariu and Benedek, 2005; Stone, 1995; de Magalhaes and Costa, 2009; van den Brink, 1968)

  • Range mass
    5.5 to 11.5 g
    0.19 to 0.41 oz
  • Average mass
    7.8 g
    0.27 oz
  • Range length
    6.0 to 7.7 mm
    0.24 to 0.30 in


Sorex alpinus mates from April to October and is likely polygynandrous. Males have a tripartite penis, which is relatively unique among Sorex species (for the lone exception see S. mirabilis). The penis of S. alpinus is relatively large compared to S. araneus and S. minutus. No other information is known regarding the mating system of this species. ("Alpine Shrew", 2004; Corbet, 1984; Hutterer, 1982; Mutchler, 2011; Taylor, 2002)

Gestation in Sorex alpinus lasts 19 to 21 days and results in 3 to 9 offspring per litter, with an average of 6. It has two or three litters a year, and offspring grow quickly and reach sexual maturity in under a year. There is no other information available concerning mating behavior in this species. In closely related species, young typically weigh under half a gram and weaning is complete by 22 to 30 days after parturition. ("Alpine Shrew", 2004; "Comparison of Species- Shrews", 1990; Mutchler, 2011; Taylor, 2002; de Magalhaes and Costa, 2009)

  • Breeding season
    April to October
  • Range number of offspring
    3 to 9
  • Range gestation period
    19 to 21 days

There is no information available regarding parental care in Sorex alpinus. However, in closely related species paternal care is non-existant and mothers nurse young until weaning, which is complete by 22 to 30 days after parturition. Young disperse once weaning is complete. ("Comparison of Species- Shrews", 1990; Mutchler, 2011; Taylor, 2002)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female


Sorex alpinus is thought to live up to 1.3 years in the wild. Little research has been done on S. alpinus in captivity; however in the closely related species, S. minutus, mortality peaks around 2 to 4 months, likely due to the fact that it is hard for young to survive the winter. ("Comparison of Species- Shrews", 1990; Mutchler, 2011; Pedro de Magalhaes, 2011; Taylor, 2002; de Magalhaes and Costa, 2009)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    12 to 16 months
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    16 months


Sorex alpinus is nocturnal and an excellent climber. It uses its long tail for balance and support while climbing. Similar species, such as Sorex minutus and S. araneus, are solitary and establish territories they can defend. Similar to other members of Soricidae, S. alpinus has a high metabolic rate and cannot go without food for more than 5 to 6 hours. Soricids have to eat more than their weight in food daily. Because of their high metabolic requirements, soricids are unable to hibernate and must remain active throughout winter. ("Alpine Shrew", 2004; Corbet, 1966; Murariu and Benedek, 2005; Mutchler, 2011; Stone, 1995; Taylor, 2002)

Home Range

Although home range size in Sorex alpinus is unknown, population densities of Sorex alpinus range from 1 to 2 animals per hectare. In closely related species, home ranges are 530 to 1800 m^2 for S. minutus, and 370 to 630 m^2 for S. araneus. ("Comparison of Species- Shrews", 1990; Mutchler, 2011; Taylor, 2002)

Communication and Perception

Sorex alpinus is relatively less vocal than closely related species, S. minutus and S. araneus. All Sorex have scent glands on their flanks and S. minutus uses these glands to scent mark its territory. It has also been suggested that S. minutus uses high frequency echolocation to locate insect prey and detect potential threats in its local environment. Similar to other Sorex, S. alpinus has significantly reduced eyes but may still depend on sight for detection of light and movement. (Lukacova, et al., 1996; Mutchler, 2011; van den Brink, 1968)

Food Habits

Sorex alpinus eats insects, arachnids, snails, and earthworms. There is no other information regarding the food habits of this species; however, closely related S. araneus and S. minutus are both opportunistic feeders. Sorex minutus does not burrow and eat earthworms , but S. araneus and S. alpinus do. Dietary separation between sympatric species may help decrease interspecific competition. ("Alpine Shrew", 2004; "Comparison of Species- Shrews", 1990; Murariu and Benedek, 2005; Mutchler, 2011; Taylor, 2002)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms


There is no information available regarding predation in Sorex alpinus. Where sympatric, however, predation on S. alpinus is likely similar to that of S. araneus and S. minutus. The scent glands on S. minutus and other shrews may help deter potential predators. Common predators of S. minutus and S. araneus include tawny owls, weasels, red foxes, and domestic cats. Nocturnal and burrowing tendencies of S. alpinus likely helps decrease risk of predation. ("Comparison of Species- Shrews", 1990; Mutchler, 2011; Taylor, 2002)

Ecosystem Roles

Sorex alpinus forages on in a number of arthropods and may help control insect pest population. It is a host to a number ectoparasitic arthropods including fleas and ticks. Although major predators of S. alpinus have not been documented, related species (e.g., S. minutus and S. araneus) are prey for many small carnivores. (Kocianova, et al., 1993; Mutchler, 2011; Stone, 1995; Taylor, 2002; Trpis, 1994; van den Brink, 1968)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Sorex alpinus is insectivorous, so they might help control insect pest populations. There are no other known positive effects of S. alpinus on humans. However, its close relative, S. minutus is an important biological indicator as it is intolerant of environmental changes. (Murariu and Benedek, 2005)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Sorex alpinus on humans. (Kocianova, et al., 1993; Murariu and Benedek, 2005; Trpis, 1994)

Conservation Status

Sorex alpinus is classified as "near threatened" on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species, however, more data are needed to determine broad population trends. Major threats include the loss of alpine rivers and streams due to water extraction and hydroelectric power and increasing winter tourism in mountains of central Europe. Climate change may pose a significant threat in the near future as range shifts may increase interspecific competition for resources. ("Alpine Shrew", 2004; Hutterer, et al., 2010; Murariu and Benedek, 2005; Spitzenberger, 1999; Stone, 1995)

Other Comments

Sorex alpinus was once thought to be an ancient species; however, evidence suggests that S. alpinus could be a relatively recent species. Three karotypes of S. alpinus are known, 2N= 54, 56, and 58, all with a G-banding pattern. (Lukacova, et al., 1996)


Felicity Burke (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


The process by which an animal locates itself with respect to other animals and objects by emitting sound waves and sensing the pattern of the reflected sound waves.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


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