When a mouse is in the house
A mouse is quiet but produces several litters a year. JEANNIE CARL CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Picture this: A friend and I are in her kitchen chatting over a cup of coffee and a mouse darts across the floor.
My friend is going to scream, like a girl, and get up on the chair just like in the movies. I, on the other hand, am going to reach for my camera or phone to capture the mouse’s image.
I might even try to capture the critter and take it outside so my friend doesn’t hit it with a broom. Two different people with two different reactions. And why is that?
I can only guess that her fear would come from not knowing much about the furry little intruder. House mice (yes, this is a species) do live outdoors in warmer months and start to move indoors when the weather turns colder. Research shows that they have been doing so for at least 8,000 years. And the best reason for taking shelter along with humans is that most predators would not be able to get to them in the dwelling. As humans roamed from place to place, these little rodents have roamed with them, and some historical records track the movement of rodents across oceans from European countries.
Almost every home at one time or another has had mice, no matter how clean. When I was a kid my grandmother lived in a high rise in center city Philadelphia. There was one very enterprising mouse who supposedly rode up and down in the elevator, getting into many apartments before it was finally caught. I often wondered if it learned which floors had the best food?
One of the biggest contributors to house mice success is something scientists refer to as “reproductive adaptability.” Which is just a scientific way of explaining that house mice reproduce all year long under a variety of circumstances.
They begin reproducing at 45 days old and they continue to do so every 23 to 30 days, producing on average 4-7 young and as many as 12. Tiny versions of the parents, they are naked, blind and deaf. They rely on finding the female simply by movement and smell. Females typically produce six to eight litters a year but thankfully the predator-prey cycle keeps those numbers in check.
According to the phrase when opportunity knocks, one should answer, and take advantage of that opportunity. Mice certainly are masters of taking advantage of any opportunity that arises. House mice are quick to adapt to wherever they happen to find themselves. The shelter doesn’t have to be a five-star hotel and the food doesn’t have to be the best cuisine for them to move right in and make themselves at home.
Another phrase about being eaten out of house and home also applies because they will eat drywall, glue, paste and plastic insulation off the wires found in homes if they cannot find other foodstuffs.
While house mice can and do live in the wild, they are heavily stressed by sharing the same ecosystem with other species of mice such as deer mice and white-footed mice. Also, by trying to eke out a living in the wild, if they do come into a dwelling, the problem is some other house mice may have stolen their real estate right out from under them. House mice are extremely territorial, and the males will fight, driving all other males off. He will then mark the territory with urine, keeping males at bay but enticing the females to the area. Being quiet and nocturnal, we often do not notice their forays into our kitchen in search of food.
So, the next time you are heading into the kitchen for a midnight snack, maybe you want to be as quiet as a mouse?
Jeannie Carl is a naturalist at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center. The center is located at 151 E. White Bear Drive in Summit Hill. Call 570-645-8597 for information.