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Mouse in the House

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


My preference is for mice to construct their “house” or shelter in natural habitats. Like snow that I wish would fall everywhere except the roads, sidewalks and drives, I hope mice stay in natural areas. Our wishes are not heeded. In fields, the meadow voles build grass shelters of woven grass. Depending on the habitat quality in fields, the number of shelters vary. There can be five territories for voles in an acre. Under ideal conditions, a vole can produce a litter every 21 days. This is good news for hawks, owls, and foxes that hunt fields. Voles tend to be abundant along treeless freeway shoulders where Red-tailed Hawks set up hunting areas.

Mousing hawks stand on nearby trees, shrubs, and highway signs to watch for movement. They soar overhead and stand near farm fields. So to speak, they are our friends by helping reduce the rodent population. Weasels move through fields and shrublands to meet their high metabolism need for frequent meals. 

Less than 10 species of mice share Michigan yards, natural habitats and our houses. Over 100 species of what people generally refer to as mice inhabit the United States and Canada. 

The Meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) also called a meadow mouse is dark brown, has a tail half body length and its small ear pinnae are almost hidden in its fur. Though it is possibly the most abundant mouse in the region, it is not the most abundant to move into our houses. The Woodland vole might also be present.

The prairie deermouse, woodland deermouse, and white-footed mouse are likely to take residence in our houses. It is difficult to separate them but nature niche preferences and anatomical features help. The two deermice in our area are considered subspecies in the process of developing new species. When to separate or lump them as species is difficult. More than fifty subspecies are distinguished across the continent and are a choice group for scientists studying evolution in progress. Many species of plants and animals are midway in species development but mice are easy to rear. Difficulty arises because speciation studies typically require centuries. 

The prairie deermouse has smaller ears and shorter tail than the woodland subspecies. The tails on both are bicolored with sharply separated brown on top and white beneath. The white-footed mouse’s tail is not sharply bicolored and ear length is midway between that of the two deermice. White-footed mice brown fur lightens on their sides. The prairie deermouse survives best in open grasslands. I think woodland deermice enter our house. To be sure, it is necessary to clean meat from mice bones and examine skull details. I prioritize other projects. 

The white-footed mice frequently use bird nest boxes and hollow trees in winter but so do deermice. In March, I clean birdhouses to ready them for the return of bird migrants. 

Mice that might be encountered during family northern vacations or on hunting trips could be the red-backed vole and woodland jumping mouse. The similar meadow jumping mouse can is found in southern Michigan but unlike other mice during winter it hibernates. Another infrequently encountered species is the southern bog lemming that thrives in swamps. We have seen them along the boardwalk in the swampy bog habitat to Chrishaven Lake at the Howard Christensen Nature Center. Though called “southern” they live mostly north of the region and are southern compared to the northern bog lemming that is not found south of Canada in the east.

Exotic species include the house mouse and Norway rat. Only once have I encountered a Norway rat at Ody Brook but they can be common in farm buildings and grain mills. Fortunately, the house mouse that also came from Europe has not been found in our home. 

Deermice have little economic significance. They and white-footed mice are valuable as prey for foxes, hawks, owls, and snakes. Mice can be a nuisance. We trap mice in the house because we do want mouse turd leavings or hanta virus. Typically the only mice you will encounter in your house are deermice, white-footed mice, and occasional meadow voles. Depending on neighborhood habitats, others can be expected.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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