Barn Owl Pellet Reveals New Mammal

From the Telegraph:

A species of shrew has been found in Ireland for the first time - after it was discovered it was featuring on an owl's menu.

Scientists were alerted by the size of a skull found in food remains passed by a Barn owl.

They eventually managed to trap several of the greater white-toothed shrew to prove that it has taken up residence.

It is only the third new mammal to be found in Ireland in almost 60 years.

The shrew is normally found in parts of Africa, France and Germany and the closest it has previously been spotted to Ireland is the Channel Islands.

It is not known how the shrew arrived but the scientists believed it was introduced only recently.

Dave Tosh, from the School of Biological Sciences at Queens University, found the shrew in Tipperary and Limerick in the south-west of Ireland.

He was studying the diet of the Barn owl in Ireland as part of his PhD last winter when he was sent pellets - regurgitated food remains - from owls to help with the study by John Lusby, Barn Owl Research Officer from Bird Watch Ireland.

"It was amongst a batch that I was about to dry in an oven, that I noticed a very large shrew skull," he said.

"Having looked at hundreds of pellets from Ireland already I knew that what I was looking at was very unusual as our native pygmy shrew is very small in comparison.

"I ended up looking through more and more pellets and discovered more and more of the strange shrew skulls."

In March seven greater white-toothed shrews were trapped at four locations in Tipperary and their existence has now been recorded in the scientific journal Mammal Review.

Professor Ian Montgomery, Head of the School of Biological Sciences at Queen's, who helped trap the shrew, said the discovery of a new mammal species in Ireland is extremely rare.