Wondrous Wildlife – April 2010

Wondrous Wildlife

By Vern and Lori Gieger

Mickey, Minnie and Friends


wonderousMice, there are approximately 1,100 species in this enormous group and they are classified into several families. Undoubtedly the most popular mouse is Mickey; however, the best known mouse species is the common house mouse. It is found in nearly all countries and yes, it is also a popular pet. This mouse is believed to be the second most populous mammalian species on Earth, after Human Beings.

So, when one thinks of endangered species they rarely think of mice. However there are several species of mice that are threatened or endanger of extinction. The deer mouse is just one example. Although most think of mice as a pest, they actually can be beneficial. The deer mouse’s diet is proof of that; deer mice feed on seeds, fruits, arthropods, leaves, and fungi. Throughout the year, the deer mouse will change its eating habits to reflect on what is available during that season.

During winter months, the arthropods compose one-fifth of the deer mouse’s food. These include spiders, caterpillars, and various other bugs including scorpions and cockroaches. During the spring months, seeds become available to eat, along with insects, which are consumed in large quantities. Leaves are also found in the stomachs of deer mice in the spring seasons. During summer months, the mouse consumes seeds and fruits. During the fall season, the deer mouse will slowly change its eating habits to resemble the winter diet. These pint-sized seed predators are proving to be powerful little warriors in the war against weeds, according to new research from Iowa State University.

It is not surprising that some of the sub-species of this little mouse are endangered; they are on the menu of many predators, such as hawks, raccoons and other small mammals, even rats. They also fall victim to cats and poisons.

Deer mice are tiny creatures that spend much of their time in areas such as trees or burrows where they have nests made of plant material. The individual litters of deer mice are contained by the mother in an individual home range. Deer mice do not mingle with other groups or with their litters. In a study, less than one third of deer mice left their original home range to reproduce. This means that there is interfamilial mating and that the gene flow among deer mice as a whole is limited. The female deer mouse can reproduce at all times of the year. Each litter contains three to four mice that develop in the mother for approximately one month. The male deer mice are allowed by the female to help nest the litter and keep them together and warm for survival. While their maximum life span in captivity can be up to six years, the average life expectancy in the wild is only approximately two years. The deer mouse is found in the United States and parts of Mexico.

Even though mice are not generally thought of as being beneficial, they can be; every so often we have to look beyond a stereotype image, in this case, the deer mouse, and see the potential benefit, and realize that they too are an essential part of a healthy eco-system.

Ojo Del Lago
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