Specimens of the world’s smallest mammal have been caught in Switzerland, more than 100 years after they were last seen in the country.
Retired zoology professor Peter Vogel captured and released seven Etruscan pygmy shrews (suncus etruscus) just north of Chiasso in the southeastern canton of Ticino, close to the Italian border.
On average the shrews weigh only 1.8 grammes, making them the lightest known mammal. They have not been observed in Switzerland since 1895, near Lugano.
Vogel told the Swiss News Agency on Wednesday he had found them living in dry walls in disused vineyards – conditions he described as “a paradise for shrews”.
He had to design a special trap for them, since they are too light to trip commercially available ones.
The animals are about four centimetres long and can flatten themselves so as to squeeze through slits only three millimetres high.
Vogel, who retired from his position at Lausanne University in 2007, first looked for the shrew in Ticino 45 years ago.
He said they were certainly “very rare” in Switzerland, although they live in the Mediterranean region. Given the difficulty of tracking them down, it is hard to say how rare they are in that area.