OUTSIDE: Of Mice and Men

Published 11:47 am Wednesday, November 10, 2021

By Steve Roark

As cold weather settles in you may end up with an influx of mice wanting to use your house as a winter retreat.  There are several mouse species in our area, but thankfully only a few pose a problem for humans.

The most common and troublesome mouse rightfully called the House Mouse (Mus musculus).  Originating in Asia, it tagged along with early European settlers on ships and like them found the New World to its liking.  Usually only seen as a blur scampering across the room, the House Mouse is around 3 inches long, gray to grayish brown in color, with a bare tail about as long as their body.  As the name suggests, their favorite abode is households, and unwelcome guests they are.  They can seemingly get through any crack and crevice, leaving droppings in the silverware drawer and everyplace else.  They chew through food packages, gnaw on wood in the middle of the night, shred up books, magazines, and string for nesting material, and are by all measures a nuisance.  When not invading homes, they can live perfectly well in the wild, feeding on seeds and insects.  House Mice are disturbingly promiscuous, and the female can produce 4 to 10 litters per year, each containing up to a dozen young.  Each female can breed at 2 months of age, so theoretically a single pair of mice can produce over a thousand offspring in a year’s time.  That’s something I’d just as soon not think about.    The white laboratory mouse used so often in medical research is an albino version of the house mouse.

There are several native mice species in our area that are much less troublesome.  Probably the ones most easily identified when seen include the Jumping Mice, identified by its long hind legs and very long tails.  They are great leapers, able to jump spans of over 5 feet.  The more common species of jumping mice include the Deer Mouse, Woodland Jumping Mouse, and the Meadow Jumping Mouse.  All are brownish to grayish in color with white bellies.  Other mice species found in our area include the Eastern Harvest Mouse and the White Footed Mouse.

Thankfully there are several predator species that use mice as a large portion of their diet.  Snakes probably top the list, so think twice before killing one.  Other important mouse predators include owls, hawks, and fox.

Steve Roark is a volunteer interpreter of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.