SCORES & OUTDOORS: The mighty house mouse

Common house mouse

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s, we used to watch Saturday morning cartoons, after we finally got a TV in 1958. We also saw them at the State Theater during Saturday kids’ shows. One of my favorite characters was Mighty Mouse, and how he would always get the better of Sylvester, the cat. Well, for some reason, this year, for the first time in the 47 years my wife and I have lived in our current home, we are experiencing a showdown with house mice.

I have managed to get one, but like the old saying goes, “If there’s one, there’s more.”

Well, another one has made its presence known. And I call it, Mighty House Mouse. Why? I have laid out two TomCat traps where I have seen signs of their presence. Both have been tripped, without the bait being touched. But the reason I call this mouse Mighty House Mouse is because both of the traps have been broken. The housing where the spring attaches is completely, and cleanly, broken off. What kind of mouse does this?

After all, the adult body length is about three inches and they weigh approximately 1-5/8 ounces.

The house mouse has been domesticated as the pet or fancy mouse, and as the laboratory mouse, which is one of the most important model organisms in biology and medicine.

A recent study revealed that the modern day house mouse emerged from an ancestral population in Indian subcontinent sometimes around 700,000 years ago. From there, this ancestral population migrated to Iran around 360,000 years ago and then to Afghanistan around 260,000 years ago.

House mice usually run, walk, or stand on all fours, but when eating, fighting, or orienting themselves, they rear up on their hind legs with additional support from the tail – a behavior known as “tripoding”. Mice are good jumpers, climbers, and swimmers, and are generally considered to be thigmotactic, i.e. usually attempt to maintain contact with vertical surfaces.

Mice are mostly nocturnal; they are averse to bright lights. The average sleep time of a captive house mouse is reported to be 12.5 hours per day. They live in a wide variety of hidden places near food sources, and construct nests from various soft materials. Mice are territorial, and one dominant male usually lives together with several females and young. Dominant males respect each other’s territories and normally enter another’s territory only if it is vacant. If two or more males are housed together in a cage, they often become aggressive unless they have been raised together from birth.

House mice primarily feed on plant matter, but are omnivorous. Mine seem to like bread, crackers, and, of all things, popping corn. I have seen an area where they hoard the corn. They eat their own faeces to acquire nutrients produced by bacteria in their intestines. House mice, like most other rodents, do not vomit.

The social behavior of the house mouse is not rigidly fixed into species-specific patterns but is instead adaptable to the environmental conditions, such as the availability of food and space. This adaptability allows house mice to inhabit diverse areas ranging from sandy dunes to apartment buildings.

In open areas such as shrubs and fields, the house mouse population is known as noncommensal. These populations are often limited by water or food supply and have large territories. Female-female aggression in the noncommensal house mouse populations is much higher, reaching a level generally attributed to free-ranging species. Male aggression is also higher in noncommensal populations. In commensal populations, males come into contact with other males quite frequently due to high population densities and aggression must be mediated or the risk of injury becomes too great.

In both agricultural and urban environments house mice are often preyed upon by the domestic cat. House mice usually live less than one year in the wild, due to a high level of predation and exposure to harsh environments. In protected environments, however, they often live two to three years.

House mice usually live in proximity to humans, in or around houses or fields. The house mouse first arrived in the Americas in the early 16th century. It was carried aboard on the ships of Spanish explorers and Conquistadors. About one hundred years later, it arrived in North America with French fur traders and English colonists. They have since been spread to all parts of the globe by humans.

Mice are widespread pest organisms, and one of the most common rodents to infest human buildings. They commonly forage outdoors during the spring and summer, but retreat into buildings through the autumn and winter to seek warmth and food. They typically feed on unattended food, leftovers and garden produce. Their foraging risks the contamination and degradation of food supplies, and can also spread other pests such as fleas, ticks and lice.

When infesting homes, house mice may pose a risk of damaging and compromising the structure of furniture and the building itself. They gnaw various materials to file down their growing teeth and keep the length under control. Common damage includes gnawed electrical wires, marks on wooden furniture and construction supporting elements, and textile damage.

House mice can sometimes transmit diseases, contaminate food, and damage food packaging. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a list with diseases transmitted by rodents, only a few of the diseases are transmitted through the house mouse.

In folk culture the importance of mice as a house and agricultural pest resulted in a development of a variety of mouse-related rituals and stories in world’s cultures. The Ancient Egyptians had a story about “The mouse as vizier”.

Many South Slavs had a traditional annual “Mouse Day” celebration. In the eastern Balkans (most of Bulgaria, North Macedonia, the Torlak districts of Serbia), the “Mouse Day” (Bulgarian: Миши ден, Мишин ден) was celebrated on October 9 of the Julian calendar (corresponds to October 27 of the Gregorian calendar in the 20th and 21st centuries), the next day after the feast of Saint Demetrius. In the western Balkans (Bosnia, Croatia), the Mouse Day would usually be celebrated in the spring, during the Maslenitsa week or early in the Lent.

Since I replaced the broken traps, I have seen no signs of the little rodents. By securing their food source, and placing some repellants, along with the traps, we seem to have driven them away.

That remains to be seen.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

On the Boston Celtics’ logo, what does the leprechaun have in his left hand?

A cane.


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