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At Home with the Water Shrew

At Home with the Water Shrew, sculpture by Ellen Woodbury

My husband, Brian, gave me a book on Colorado Mammals for my birthday. He remarked, “You won’t believe the animal on page 67.” Wow. He was right, and I was captivated.  Inspiration for another stone sculpture!

Water Shrew!

The water shrew is the smallest known aquatic mammal, measuring 6 inches from tip of snout to tip of tail. Water shrews are found in many places in the world—Montana, Tennessee, China . . . In Colorado, the water shrew lives at elevations between 6,000 and 10,000 feet in the Rockies along rivers, streams, ponds, and marshes.

Fly fishermen may know the water shrew as “the swimming mouse.” It is completely carnivorous and eats small fish, crustaceans, and aquatic insect nymphs. The unlucky water shrew is also food for larger fish.

A Remarkable Animal

The water shrew does not hibernate in the winter.  It grows a very thick fur coat for insulation against cold weather and cold water.

Many aquatic animals lower their body temperatures when diving into cold water (the leatherback sea turtle is one). Water shrews raise their body temperatures significantly before diving for their food.  Their dives last only a couple of seconds.

They have bristles between their toes and partially webbed hind feet.  This adaptation allow them to run across the surface of the water for distances up to 5 feet. Remarkable!


The stone is Mongolian Imperial Black Marble.  Carbon bonds with sulfur in the formation of this stone, so the actual cutting of the stone smells like swamp gas.  (The completed sculpture does not smell). The stone is a lovely medium hardness that holds detail and is mostly dependable and predictable.

It polishes to a gorgeous high shine with black rouge (which takes the surface to 10,000 grit.)  It also yields a lovely soft gray when polished to 60-grit and textured. I also achieved a medium-dark gray at 600–grit for the snail shell.

The “water stone” is Blue-green Onyx.  This is a semi-precious gemstone, only known to exist in one quarry 13,000 feet up in the Argentine Andes. This stone is extremely tricky to carve and must be handled with care. However, it is worth the extra effort as the colors are outrageous.

Recognition for the Water Shrew

“At Home with the Water Shrew” was juried into the Society of Animal Artists‘ 53rd Annual Exhibition on Art and the Animal.  The show will be held at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont, and runs from August 31 through October 31, 2013.  

This is my second time exhibiting in this prestigious show in as many years!  How neat is that?

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At Home with the Water Shrew

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