Sorex cinereus - Kerr, 1792
Cinereus Shrew
Other English Common Names: Masked Shrew, masked shrew
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Sorex cinereus Kerr, 1792 (TSN 179929)
French Common Names: musaraigne cendrée
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.101993
Element Code: AMABA01010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Mammals - Other Mammals
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Mammalia Soricomorpha Soricidae Sorex
Genus Size: D - Medium to large genus (21+ species)
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder (editors). 1993. Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Second edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. xviii + 1206 pp. Available online at:
Concept Reference Code: B93WIL01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Sorex cinereus
Taxonomic Comments: Several formerly recognized subspecies recently have been regarded as distinct species (e.g., see van Zyll de Jong 1983). A population in western Washington and adjacent British Columbia was recognized as a distinct species (S. rohweri) by Rausch et al. (2007).

According to George (1988), electrophoretic data contradict morphometric evidence that S. fontinalis is conspecific with S. cinereus. However, results of a recent analysis of cranial morphology do not support the view that fontinalis is specifically distinct from S. cinereus; electrophoretic support for separation of the two as distinct species is based on a small sample size from one small geographic area (van Zyll de Jong 1989). Van Zyll de Jong (1999) and Demboski and Cook (2003) concluded that S. fontinalis should be regraded as a subspecies of S. cinereus, but the North American mammal checklist by Baker et al. (2003) kept S. fontinalis as a species, based on electrophoretic results of George (1988).

The same study (George 1988) supports separation of S. haydeni and S. cinereus as independent species. Despite distinct morphological and karyotypic (Volobouev and van Zyll de Jong 1994) differences between S. haydeni and S. cinereus, in Alberta these taxa were less genetically differentiated than were conspecific populations of S. cinereus across Canada; there were no fixed allele differences among the populations sampled, but there was a unique allele at a moderate frequency in S. haydeni; this may be indicative of no gene flow between these two taxa, and thus they may be valid species; evidently S. cinereus is a paraphyletic taxon (Stewart et al. 1993).

Based on evidence of bidirectional mtDNA introgression in Minnesota, Brunet et al. (2002) concluded that S. haydeni does not warrant specific status, but Demboski and Cook (2003) found that S. cinereus and S. haydeni do not appear to be sister species and regarded S. haydeni as a valid species (based on a mtDNA phylogeny). The North American mammal checklist by Baker et al. (2003) maintained S. haydeni as a distinct species.

MtDNA data are not concordant with currently accepted subspecific designations in S. cinereus (Stewart and Baker 1997).

Sorex milleri of Mexico apparently represents a relict population of S. cinereus and may not have attained specific status (van Zyll de Jong 1989).

See Stewart and Baker (1992) for information on genetic differentiation and biogeography of island and mainland populations in southeastern Canada, where certain island populations have diverged genetically to a level that may be indicative of incipient speciation or subspeciation.

Rausch and Rausch (1995) examined karyotypic and morphological characteristics of shrews on St. Lawrence Island and the Alaskan mainland and found no significant differences; they concluded that S. jacksoni should be regarded as a subspecies of S. cinereus. However, van Zyll de Jong (in Wilson and Ruff 1999) and Demboski and Cook (2003) continued to recognize S. jacksoni as a species. Based on the data of Demboski and Cook (2003), the North American mammal checklist by Baker et al. (2003) recognized S. jacksoni as a valid species.

Demboski and Cook (2003) used DNA sequence data to examine phylogenetic relationships among 8 members of the Sorex cinereus group (S. camtschatica, S. cinereus, S. haydeni, S. jacksoni, S. portenkoi, S. preblei, S. pribilofensis, and S. ugyunak) and S. longirostris. Phylogenetic analyses recovered 2 major clades within the species group: a northern clade that includes the Beringian species (S. camtschatica, S. jacksoni, S. portenkoi, S. pribilofensis, and S. ugyunak), S. haydeni
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 05Apr2016
Global Status Last Changed: 01Nov1996
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Nation: United States
National Status: N5 (05Sep1996)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5 (21Feb2016)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alaska (S5), Colorado (S5), Connecticut (S5), Delaware (S5), Georgia (S2S3), Idaho (S5), Illinois (S5), Indiana (S4), Iowa (SNR), Kentucky (S3), Maine (S5), Maryland (S5), Massachusetts (S5), Michigan (S5), Minnesota (S5), Missouri (SNR), Montana (S5), New Hampshire (S5), New Jersey (S5), New Mexico (S2), New York (S5), North Carolina (S4), North Dakota (SNR), Ohio (S5), Pennsylvania (S5), Rhode Island (S5), South Carolina (S2), South Dakota (S5), Tennessee (S4), Utah (S3?), Vermont (S5), Virginia (S5), Washington (S4S5), West Virginia (S5), Wisconsin (S5), Wyoming (S5)
Canada Alberta (S5), British Columbia (S5), Labrador (S5), Manitoba (S5), New Brunswick (S5), Newfoundland Island (SNA), Northwest Territories (S5), Nova Scotia (S5), Nunavut (S5), Ontario (S5), Prince Edward Island (S5), Quebec (S5), Saskatchewan (S4S5), Yukon Territory (S5)

Other Statuses

IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Alaska to Labrador/Newfoundland, south to Washington, Utah, New Mexico, the Northern Great Plains, southern Indiana and Ohio, through the Appalachian Mountains to northern Georgia and western South Carolina, and on the east coast to New Jersey and northern Maryland (Laerm et al. 1995, Brimleyana 22:15-21; Whitaker 2004).

Overall Threat Impact Comments: This and other generalist insectivores are not likely to be impacted negatively by selective insecticides such as BACILLUS THURINGIENSIS (Bellocq et al. 1992).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Alaska to Labrador/Newfoundland, south to Washington, Utah, New Mexico, the Northern Great Plains, southern Indiana and Ohio, through the Appalachian Mountains to northern Georgia and western South Carolina, and on the east coast to New Jersey and northern Maryland (Laerm et al. 1995, Brimleyana 22:15-21; Whitaker 2004).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AK, CO, CT, DE, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MT, NC, ND, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
Canada AB, BC, LB, MB, NB, NFexotic, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe, 2005

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
GA Rabun (13241)*, Towns (13281)*, White (13311)*
KY Bell (21013)*, Harlan (21095), Henderson (21101)*, Letcher (21133), Union (21225)*
NM Colfax (35007)*, Mora (35033), Rio Arriba (35039), Santa Fe (35049)*, Taos (35055)
SC Greenville (45045), Oconee (45073)
TN Anderson (47001), Campbell (47013), Carroll (47017), Carter (47019), Claiborne (47025), Cocke (47029), Coffee (47031), Cumberland (47035), Fentress (47049)*, Franklin (47051), Gibson (47053), Hawkins (47073)*, Johnson (47091), Marion (47115), Monroe (47123), Montgomery (47125), Morgan (47129), Polk (47139), Putnam (47141)*, Roane (47145), Sevier (47155), Stewart (47161), Unicoi (47171)
UT Daggett (49009)*, Duchesne (49013), Garfield (49017), Grand (49019), Juab (49023)*, Piute (49031)*, Rich (49033)*, Salt Lake (49035)*, Sanpete (49039), Sevier (49041)*, Summit (49043), Uintah (49047)*, Utah (49049)*, Wayne (49055)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
03 Saluda (03050109)+, Seneca (03060101)+, Tugaloo (03060102)+, Upper Chattahoochee (03130001)+*
05 North Fork Kentucky (05100201)+, Middle Fork Kentucky (05100202)+, Lower Green (05110005)+*, Upper Cumberland (05130101)+, South Fork Cumberland (05130104)+*, Upper Cumberland-Cordell Hull (05130106)+*, Collins (05130107)+, Lower Cumberland (05130205)+, Red (05130206)+, Highland-Pigeon (05140202)+*
06 South Fork Holston (06010102)+, Watauga (06010103)+, Upper French Broad (06010105)+, Pigeon (06010106)+*, Lower French Broad (06010107)+, Nolichucky (06010108)+, Watts Bar Lake (06010201)+*, Upper Little Tennessee (06010202)+*, Lower Little Tennessee (06010204)+, Upper Clinch (06010205)+, Powell (06010206)+, Lower Clinch (06010207)+, Emory (06010208)+, Middle Tennessee-Chickamauga (06020001)+, Hiwassee (06020002)+*, Ocoee (06020003)+, Guntersville Lake (06030001)+, Upper Elk (06030003)+, Upper Duck (06040002)+
08 South Fork Obion (08010203)+
11 Cimarron (11080002)+*, Mora (11080004)+
13 Upper Rio Grande (13020101)+, Rio Chama (13020102)+, Rio Grande-Santa Fe (13020201)+*
14 Upper Colorado-Kane Springs (14030005)+, Upper Green-Flaming Gorge Reservoir (14040106)+*, Ashley-Brush (14060002)+*, Duchesne (14060003)+, San Rafael (14060009)+, Muddy (14070002)+, Fremont (14070003)+, Escalante (14070005)+
16 Upper Bear (16010101)+, Upper Weber (16020101)+*, Utah Lake (16020201)+*, Spanish Fork (16020202)+*, Provo (16020203)+, Jordan (16020204)+*, East Fork Sevier (16030002)+, San Pitch (16030004)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
General Description: A medium-sized shrew (adults usually 9-11 cm total length, tail 35-45 mm, 3-6 g) with a sharply pointed snout, beady eyes, and small ears nearly hidden in the fine soft pelage; dorsal pelage varies from dark brown to gray, depending on the season and location; five small unicuspidate teeth behind the upper incisors (the fifth is minute, the fourth generally is smaller than [less commonly equal to, or sometimes larger than in subspecies OHIOENSIS] the third, and both of these are smaller than the first and second; tips of teeth are dark chestnut; feet are delicate, with slender weak claws; condylobasal length of skull 14.6-16.9 mm; maxillary breadth less than 4.6 mm; posterior border of infraorbital foramen even with, or anterior to, plane of space between M1 and M2 (Armstrong 1987, Hall 1981, Godin 1977).
Diagnostic Characteristics: Generally paler and smaller than S. FUMEUS (95-129 mm total length) (Godin 1977). See Hall (1981) for a (somewhat outdated) key to North American species of SOREX. See Carraway (1995) for a key to western North American soricids based primarily on dentaries.
Reproduction Comments: Breeding season may last from March through September (there is evidence of mid-winter births in at least some years in Nova Scotia) (Stewart et al. 1989). Usually 2 litters, may be 3. Gestation lasts 18 days. Litter size is 2-10 (average around 7). Young are weaned in 3 weeks. Sexually mature in 20-26 weeks. Some young may breed in the year of their birth.
Ecology Comments: Large annual fluctuations in population size. Density estimates range from 1-12 shrews per acre (Buckner 1966). Home range about 0.10 acre. Usually in scattered, locally abundant populations. Rarely lives past second summer.
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Estuarine Habitat(s): Herbaceous wetland
Palustrine Habitat(s): Bog/fen, FORESTED WETLAND, HERBACEOUS WETLAND, Riparian
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Forest - Conifer, Forest - Hardwood, Forest - Mixed, Grassland/herbaceous, Old field, Savanna, Shrubland/chaparral, Woodland - Conifer, Woodland - Hardwood, Woodland - Mixed
Special Habitat Factors: Burrowing in or using soil, Fallen log/debris, Standing snag/hollow tree
Habitat Comments: Occupies most terrestrial habitats excluding areas with very little or no vegetation. Thick leaf litter in damp forests may represent favored habitat, although appears adaptable to major successional disturbances. In Nova Scotia, diet indicated that much foraging was done among wrack on beaches (Stewart et al. 1989). Nest sites are typically in shallow burrows or above ground in logs and stumps.
Adult Food Habits: Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore
Food Comments: A generalist, opportunistic invertivore. Eats primarily insects and other invertebrates, carrion, small vertebrates, occasionally seeds. Echolocation may be used for detecting prey (Gould et al. 1964). Consumes daily its own weight in food.
Adult Phenology: Circadian
Immature Phenology: Circadian
Phenology Comments: Active throughout the day (and the year) to secure enough food to maintain high metabolic rate. Peak active period 0100-0200 (van Zyll de Jong 1983). Cloudy, rainy nights increase nocturnal activity.
Length: 10 centimeters
Weight: 5 grams
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary Not yet assessed
Population/Occurrence Delineation
Group Name: Shrews

Use Class: Not applicable
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: An area of suitable habitat where there is evidence of presence (or historical presence), with potential for continued presence; evidence minimally including a specimen or, in the case of certain species, a determination by a reliable observer of a live specimen in the hand.
Separation Barriers: Arbitrarily set at rivers wider than 50 meters at low water. Some shrews are relatively strong, active swimmers (notably SOREX PALUSTRIS, S. BENDIRII, SOREX ALASKANUS). No data on dispersal or other movement across water barriers.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 1 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Justification: Dispersal distances of shrews are poorly known, but these mammals are mobile enough to cover fairly large distances. Mature males especially may wander widely (Hawes 1977). Separation distance for suitable habitat attempts to reflect the small home range size of shrews, their secretive habits and consequent apparent absence in areas where they do in fact occur, and the seemingly low probability that two occupied locations separated by a gap of less than several kilometers of suitable habitat would represent independent populations.

Home ranges small: for breeding SOREX VAGRANS in British Columbia, 338 - 5261 square meters (Hawes 1977); in California, mean of about 372 square meters (Ingles 1961); for breeding S. MONTICOLUS (=OBSCURUS) in British Columbia, mean of 4020 square meters (Hawes 1977); for S. ARANEUS in England, a fall and winter home range of about 2800 square meters, with females occupying exclusive ranges (Buckner 1969).

Date: 21Sep2004
Author: Cannings, S., and G. Hammerson
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 28Feb2005
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 08Apr1996

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

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  • Wilson, D. E., and S. Ruff. 1999. The Smithsonian book of North American mammals. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 750 pp.

  • Wrigley, R.F., J.E. DuBois, and H.W. Copland. 1979. Habitat, abundance and distribution of six species of shrew in Manitoba. J. Mamm. 60:505-520.

  • Youngman, P.M. 1975. Mammals of the Yukon Territory. Publications in Zoology, No. 10., National Museums of Canada, Ottawa. 192 pp.

  • van Zyll de Jong, C. G., and G. L. Kirkland, Jr. 1989. A morphometric analysis of the Sorex cinereus group in central and eastern North America. J. Mamm. 70:110-122.

  • van Zyll de Jong, C.G. 1976. A comparison between woodland and tundra forms of the common shrew (Sorex cinereus). Can. J. Zool. 54: 963-973.

  • 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.

  • van Zyll de Yong, C.G. 1983. Handbook of Canadian Mammals. Volume 1: Marsupials and Insectivores. National Museums of Canada, National Museum of Natural Science, Ottawa. 212 pp.

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Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

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