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Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Vagrant Shrew - Sorex vagrans

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4

Agency Status


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General Description
Pacific coast: tine present on anteriomedial edge of I1; tail distinctly bicolored in young, indistinctly bicolored in adults; never more than 4 pairs of friction pads on the second to fourth digits of hind feet; level of pigmentation at or below level of median tine on I1; body size small to medium; U5 triangular, body of U1s not touching, P4 overlapping U5; zygomatic process of maxillary pointed (Carraway 1990).

Diagnostic Characteristics
See Carraway (1995) for a key to western North American soricids based primarily on dentaries.

Species Range
Montana Range

Click the legend blocks above to view individual ranges.

Western Hemisphere Range


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 469

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)


At elevations below 5000 ft, usually Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, western larch, grand fir, western red cedar forests (Hennings and Hoffmann 1977). Often found in moist sites (Hoffmann and Pattie 1968).
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Insects, annelida, shrews, vegetable matter, insect larvae. Apparently will also use plant seeds, carrion, and some mushrooms (van Zyll de Jong 1983).

Uses echolocation to orient in darkness (Buchanan 1972). May live in geographic sympatry with Sorex monticolus, S. cinereus, S. palustris, and S. hoyi (Hennings and Hoffmann 1977).

Reproductive Characteristics
Pregnant from April to July. Average 6.6 young/litter. Females usually don't conceive first year. No first year males showed signs of sexual development. Males begin producing spermatoza early March. Short lifespan, high annual turnover (van Zyll de Jong 1983).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Carraway, L.N. 1990. A morphologic and morphometric analysis of the 'Sorex vagrans species complex' in the Pacific coast region. Texas Tech Univ. Mus. Spec. Publ. (32): 1-76.
    • Carraway, L.N. 1995. A key to recent Soricidae of the western United States and Canada based primarily on dentaries. Occasional Papers of the Natural History Museum, University of Kansas (175):1-49.
    • Hennings, D. and R.S. Hoffmann. 1977. A review of the taxonomy of the SOREX VAGRANS species complex from western North America. Occas. Pap. Mus. of Nat. Hist. of the Univ. of Kansas. 68: 1-35.
    • Hoffmann, R.S. and D.L. Pattie. 1968. A guide to Montana mammals: identification, habitat, distribution, and abundance. University of Montana, Missoula. 133 pp.
    • Van Zyll de Jong, C.G. 1983. Handbook of Canadian mammals. 1. Marsupials and insectivores. National Museum of Natural Sciences, National Museums of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 210 pp.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • Buchler, E. R. 1972. The use of echolocation by the wandering shrew, SOREX VAGRANS Baird. Ph.D dissertation. University of Montana, Missoula. 96 pp.
    • Camp Dresser & McKee, Inc., Wheat Ridge, CO., 1981, Anaconda Stillwater Project 6-month environmental baseline report. CDM Project No. 3139. Vol. I Appendix. Jan. 15, 1981.
    • Carlsen, Tom, and Rick Northrup, 1992, Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area Final Draft Management Plan. March 1992.
    • Clark, T. W. 1973. Distribution and reproduction of shrews in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Northwest Sci. 47(2): 128-131.
    • Clothier, R.R. 1955. Contribution to the life history of Sorex vagrans in Montana. Journal Mammal. 36(2): 214-220.
    • Foresman, K.R. 2001. The wild mammals of Montana. American Society of Mammologists, Special Publication Number 12. Lawrence, KS. 278 pp.
    • Gillihan, S. W. and K. R. Foresman. 2004. Sorex vagrans. American Society of Mammalogists, Lawrence, KS. Mammalian Species No. 744:1-5.
    • Hayward, G. D. and P. H. Hayward. 1995. Relative abundance and habitat associations of small mammals in the Chamberlain Basin, central Idaho. Northwest Sci. 69(2): 114-125.
    • Hoffmann, R. S. and R. D. Taber. 1960. Notes on Sorex in the northern Rocky Mountain alpine zone. Journal of Mammalogy 41(2): 230-234.
    • Ingles, L. G. 1961. Home range and habitats of the wandering shrew. J. Mammal. 42(4): 455-462.
    • Medin, D. E. and W. P. Clary. 1991. Small mammals of a beaver pond ecosystem and adjacent riparian habitat in Idaho. USDA, Forest Service, Res. Paper INT-445.
    • Pattie, D.L. and N.A. M. Verbeek. 1967. Alpine mammals of the Beartooth Plateau. Northwest Science 41(3): 110-117.
    • Ports, M. A. and S. B. George. 1990. Sorex preblei in the northern Great Basin. Great Basin Naturalist 50: 93-95.
    • Reid, F. 2006. Peterson Field Guide to Mammals of North America, 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston and New York, 608 pp.
    • Rust, H. J. 1946. Mammals of northern Idaho. J. Mammal. 27(4): 308-327.
    • Smith H. C. 1988. The wandering shrew, SOREX VAGRANS, in Alberta. Can. Field-Nat. 102:254-156.
    • Spencer, A. W. and D. Pettus. 1966. Habitat preferences of five sympatric species of long-tailed shrews. Ecology 47: 677-683.
    • Stearns-Roger Inc., 1975, Environmental baseline information of the Mount Vernon Region, Montana. January 31, 1975.
    • Thompson, Richard W., Western Resource Dev. Corp., Boulder, CO., 1996, Wildlife baseline report for the Montana [Montanore] Project, Lincoln and Sanders counties, Montana. In Application for a Hard Rock Operating Permit and Proposed Plan of Operation, Montanore Project, Lincoln and Sanders Counties, Montana. Vol. 5. Stroiazzo, John. Noranda Minerals Corp., Libby, MT. Revised September 1996.
    • Zackheim, Karen, 1973?, Exhibit H: Wildlife Study. In Ash Grove Cement Co. files.
  • Web Search Engines for Articles on "Vagrant Shrew"
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Citation for data on this website:
Vagrant Shrew — Sorex vagrans.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on May 28, 2016, from