Some mice are kind of nice to look at
February 21, 2010
White-footed Mouse, photo by Jim McCormac
"If you build a better mousetrap, you will catch better mice" (George Gobel). "Get a cat" (Jim McCormac)
There are lots of mice for the catching. Many readers know the uneasy sensation that comes from hearing the soft scrabble of little feet running behind the walls. We react with loathing; our cats prick their ears up with interest.
Most of these unwanted squatters are house mice, Mus musculus. Small and gray, a house mouse measures only five inches from tail tip to nose, and weighs but 20 grams. Opportunistic colonizers, these mighty mice are native to Asia, but long ago hitched a ride with man. Everywhere we go, they go, and the aptly named rodents are now ubiquitous wherever our abodes are found.
So successful are house mice at riding our coattails that they may be the world's most abundant mammal. Small wonder, given their prodigious reproductive abilities. Chew on this: A female can have 10 litters, averaging five pups, annually. Females become sexually mature around eight weeks of age. Thus, one female and her subsequent offspring might crank out several hundred mice a year!
Although house mice cause us plenty of consternation, they've served science well. This is the species bred for lab experimentation in genetics and psychology.
This will be slim consolation to the mouse-plagued homeowner, but there is a better mouse.
About 25% of the "house mice" in some areas are actually a native species, the gorgeous white-footed mouse, Peromyscus leucopus. Charmers upon close inspection, white-foots have huge brown eyes, bicolored coats of sable and white, and giant dumbo ears.
Like the house mouse, white-foots are prolific breeders, but the vast majority remain outdoors. Their young are raised in globular nests of shredded plant material and any soft stuff that can be found. People who regularly clean out bird boxes know all about white-footed mouse nests, but they'll place them under old boards, in tree cavities, thick shrubs, hollow logs, etc.
White-footed mice may be the most common native mammal in Ohio. While the reviled house mouse has found a niche serving science, and thus us, white-foots are invaluable in natural food chains. Like little sausage links with legs, they scamper about delighting all of the hawks, owls, snakes and larger mammals that capture them.
Plants prosper because of mice, too. White-foots harvest seeds galore of many species, and lose enough of them to help in the distribution of our native flora.