In this laboratory experiment it is shown that, like four North American soricid shrew species, the European common shrew Sorex araneus L. is able to use echolocation to identify open and closed tubes at a distance of 200 mm.
Three common shrews captured in Sweden were used for the experiments, which were carried out in darkness and within a sound-proof box. The experimental set-up eliminated orientation using sight, sound or scent from outside the experimental cage. Echolocation calls consisted of broadband ultrasonic clicks at low sound pressure. These were recorded using an ultrasound detector.
The ecological significance of echolocation in shrews is discussed. It is proposed that common shrews use echolocation to locate protective cover, thus minimizing the risk to be taken by, e.g. owls.
Echolocation may also be used for detecting obstacles in subterranean tunnels. Hence, echolocation could be of certain importance when abandoned burrows in the periphery of the tunnel system are restored during periods of increasing population densities. Since density peaks in most populations occur regularly each summer, and may reach extreme magnitudes in cyclic populations, the ecological significance of echolocation in shrews may be considerabl.