"Most of your fears are much bigger in your mind than in reality." -- Doe Zantamata

Ghosts in My Attic
Not long ago, I lived in an old farmhouse with a walk-in attic. It was more of a garret than an attic, but I never really used it. One night, I awoke to hear ghosts in that attic. Naturally, with my heart banging in my chest and visions of the old Poltergeist film in my head, fear kept me from sleeping. The next day, I recruited a neighbour to come look in the attic with me.

We did not find ghosts, but there were lots of dead bugs, hibernating flies, and mouse droppings. Ew! The neighbour set a mouse trap for me and, sure enough, the next day, there was a dead mouse in my attic. But this mouse was tiny - a baby mouse to be sure. I felt terrible for killing it. When I looked at it closely, I saw it's long, pointy snout, and realised I had murdered a protected species. A pigmy shrew!

Pygmy Shrews
Pygmy shrews are Ireland's smallest mammal. They have a long, pointy nose and whiskers that twitch as they scramble through tangles of bramble, bracken, and woodland looking for food. Their main goals in life are to eat and avoid being eaten.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about pygmy shrews is that, unlike rodents, they eat only insects. My old attic was probably Paradise for the little family that lived there. Once they had finished eating all the hibernating flies and other annoying critters, they left! I didn't even have to ask. That's probably because these little guys must eat constantly, gobbling up more than their body weight every day, approximately 250 insects in a 24 hour period. God bless 'em! 

The average weight of a pygmy shrew is less than six grams, they have the fastest heart rate (1200 times per minute) and metabolic rate of any mammal, and if they go an hour without food, they die. Their eye sight sucks, which explains why their name in Irish is 'blind animal of the heather,' but their sense of smell is fabulous, which is why they could find food in my dark attic.

They've been around for longer than humans, but the average one of these little critters doesn't live more than thirteen months. 

They are really amazing little creatures. Naturally, I didn't put any more mouse traps in my attic, and I'm very glad these tiny insectivores are a protected species.

Travel Tips

  • In Ireland, music doesn't usually start at the pubs until 9:30 or even 10:00pm. So, don't be afraid to go out at night. That's when things really start hoppin'.

  • When you travel, always consider local customs and ways of doing things. Try to join in and really understand why people do the things they do. For instance, if you're a coffee drinker, when you get to Ireland try a hot cup of Irish tea, made with milk and sugar. It can leave you with a wonderful sense of euphoria, but not all the jitters you can get from coffee.