Fifteen species of native mice of the genus Peromyscus may be found in the United States. The two most common and widely distributed species are the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) and the white-footed mouse. All of the Peromyscus species have white feet, usually white undersides, and brownish upper surfaces. Their tails are relatively long, sometimes as long as the head and body. The deer mouse and some other species have a distinct separation between the brownish back and white belly. Their tails are also sharply bicolored. It is difficult, even for an expert, to tell all of the species apart.
In comparison to house mice, white-footed and deer mice have larger eyes and ears. They are considered by most people to be more “attractive” than house mice, and they do not have the characteristic mousy odor of house mice. All species of Peromyscus cause similar problems and require similar solutions.
The deer mouse is found throughout most of North America. The white-footed mouse is found throughout the United States east of the Rocky Mountains except in parts of the Southeast.
The deer mouse occupies nearly every type of habitat within its range, from forests to grasslands. It is the most widely distributed and abundant mammal in North America.
The white-footed mouse is also widely distributed but prefers wooded or brushy areas. It is sometimes found in open areas.
The other species of Peromyscus have somewhat more specialized habitat preferences. For example, the cactus mouse occurs in low deserts with sandy soil and scattered vegetation and on rocky outcrops. The brush mouse lives in chaparral areas of semidesert regions, often in rocky habitats.
White-footed and deer mice are primarily seed eaters. Frequently they will feed on seeds, nuts, acorns, and other similar items that are available. They also consume fruits, insects and insect larvae, fungi, and possibly some green vegetation. They often store quantities of food near their nest sites, particularly in the fall when seeds, nuts, or acorns are abundant.
White-footed and deer mice are mostly nocturnal with a home range of 1/3 acre to 4 acres (0.1 to 1.6 ha) or larger. A summer population density may reach a high of about 15 mice per acre (37/ha).
In warm regions, reproduction may occur more or less year-round in some species. More typically, breeding occurs from spring until fall with a summer lull. This is especially true in cooler climates. Litter size varies from 1 to 8 young but is usually 3 to 5. Females may have from 2 to 4 or more litters per year, depending on species and climate.
During the breeding season, female white-footed and deer mice come into heat every fifth day until impregnated. The gestation period is usually 21 to 23 days, but may be as long as 37 days in nursing females. Young are weaned when they are 2 to 3 weeks old and become sexually mature at about 7 to 8 weeks of age. Those born in spring and summer may breed that same year.
Mated pairs usually remain together during the breeding season but may take new mates in the spring if both survive the winter. If one mate dies, a new one is acquired. Family groups usually nest together through the winter. They do not hibernate but may become torpid for a few days when winter weather is severe.
Nests consist of stems, twigs, leaves, roots of grasses, and other fibrous materials. They may be lined with fur, feathers, or shredded cloth. The deer mouse often builds its nest underground in cavities beneath the roots of trees or shrubs, beneath a log or board, or in a burrow made by another rodent. Sometimes deer mice nest in aboveground sites such as a hollow log or fencepost, or in cupboards and furniture of unoccupied buildings.
White-footed mice spend a great deal of time in trees. They may use aban-locating and digging up buried seed. Formerly, much reforestation was attempted by direct seeding of clear-cut areas, but seed predation by deer mice and white-footed mice, and by other rodents and birds, caused frequent failure in the regeneration. For this reason, to reestablish Douglas fir and other commercial timber species today, it is often necessary to hand-plant seedlings, despite the increased expense of this method.
In mid-1993, the deer mouse (P. maniculatus) was first implicated as a potential reservoir of a type of hantavirus responsible for an adult respiratory distress syndrome, leading to several deaths in the Four Corners area of the United States. Subsequent isolations of the virus thought responsible for this illness have been made from several Western states. The source of the disease is thought to be through human contact with urine, feces, or saliva from infected rodents.
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The principal problem caused by white-footed and deer mice is their tendency to enter homes, cabins, and other structures that are not rodent-proof. Here they build nests, store food, and can cause considerable damage to upholstered furniture, mattresses, clothing, paper, or other materials that they find suitable for their nest-building activities. Nests, droppings, and other signs left by these mice are similar to those of house mice. White-footed and deer mice have a greater tendency to cache food supplies, such as acorns, seeds, or nuts, than do house mice. White-footed and deer mice are uncommon in urban or suburban residential areas unless there is considerable open space (fields, parks) nearby.
Both white-footed and deer mice occasionally dig up and consume newly planted seeds in gardens, flowerbeds, and field borders. Their excellent sense of smell makes them highly efficient at locating seeds.
White-footed and deer mice are considered native, nongame mammals and receive whatever protection may be afforded such species under state or local laws. It is usually permissible to control them when necessary but first check with your state wildlife agency. Doned bird or squirrel nests, adding a protective “roof” of twigs and other materials to completely enclose a bird’s nest. Like deer mice, they nest at or just below ground level or in buildings.
Rodent-proof construction will exclude mice from buildings and other structures. Use hardware cloth (1/4-inch [0.6 cm] mesh) or similar materials to exclude mice from garden seedbeds.
Store food items left in cabins or other infrequently used buildings in rodent-proof containers. Store furniture cushions, drawers, and other items in infrequently used buildings in ways that reduce nesting sites.
Naphthalene (moth balls or flakes) may be effective in confined spaces.
Anticoagulants. Zinc phosphide.
None are registered.
Snap traps. Box-(Sherman) type traps. Automatic multiple-catch traps.
Alternative feeding: Experiments suggest that application of sunflower seed may significantly reduce consumption of conifer seed in forest reseeding operations, although the tests have not been followed to regeneration.
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