New species of desert shrew found in southern Arizona

Not since 1977 has a new mammal species been discovered in Arizona. But a Texas Tech University professor recently identified a new species of desert shrew that he first caught in the Santa Rita Mountains nearly 40 years ago, when he was a University of Arizona graduate student.

TTU Professor Robert Baker has named the newly identified mammal species Notiosorex cockrumi in honor of UA Professor Emeritus E. Lendell Cockrum.

"I can't help but have a bit of an ego trip about it," Cockrum said. "Thank goodness no one has named a skunk after me." A subspecies of mouse found in Kansas has also been named for Cockrum.

The N. cockrumi shrew is among the smallest mammals in Arizona. It weighs only as much as a penny and is about the length of two AAA batteries. The only Arizona mammals that are smaller are the dwarf shrew, found at high elevations in central and northern parts of the state, and the Western Pipistrelle bat.

Like other shrew species, desert shrews have a high surface area-to-volume ratio and lose body heat quickly. To compensate, they have a high metabolic rate. Unless they eat often, they will starve to death. Desert shrews are vicious predators. To satisfy their rapacious appetites, they devour juicy insects, such as crickets, and the occasional small mouse, which is about five to 10 times their own size. They paralyze their prey by biting the base of its skull.

Baker caught the unidentified shrew in the Santa Ritas in 1966. The mountain range is home to a known species of desert shrew, N. crawfordi , found in habitat from Texas to southeastern and south central Arizona. Baker found that the unidentified shrew had a chromosome morphology, or karyotype, different from that of N. crawfordi.

"In 1966 it was not thought that the karyotype differed much within a single species," Baker said. "After I graduated from UA, I caught some specimens of N. crawfordi from west Texas near Lubbock. I prepared chromosomes from t

Contact: Yar Petryszyn
University of Arizona

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