Rodents: What You May Not Want to Know, but Should (Part 1 of 6)

MYTH:  The major rat-borne diseases of the past, like plague, no longer occur in the United States.

FACT:  Plague was mainly carried in the Middle Ages by the roof rat (Rattus rattus).  Plague exists today in the western United States, but is mainly in native rodent reservoirs such as ground squirrels.  A few people are infected with plague each year in the United States, usually from outdoor activities or contact with native rodents.  However, the Norway rat (R. novegicus) in the United States today has been implicated in transmitting many different diseases to people, including Salmonella, leptospirosis and trichinosis.  Rats and mice can also carry many important diseases to livestock and poultry.

Kaukeinen, Dale E.  “(More) Myths about Rodents.” Pest Management Professional

[The following information is taken in part from Truman’s Scientific Guide to Pest Management Operations, Sixth Edition]

The House Mouse

 The house mouse originated in grassy plains of central Asia.  It was transported west on ships via early trade merchants and immigrants—probably in the 15th century.  Because of its small size, adaptability and the fact that it needs extremely small amounts of food and space, the mouse is capable of survival in nearly any environment.  With the exception of humans, the house mouse is the most numerous and widespread mammal on earth.  The house mouse is, by far, the “number one” rodent pest.

You can tell a house mouse by its small body.  It has large ears, an almost hairless tail which is as long as its head and body combined.  As with all rodents, there may be color variations, but usually they will be dark gray with a light gray belly.  If you have difficulty telling the difference between a young rat and a mouse, the size of the head and the hind feet should help you differentiate them.

As with most rodents, if there is plenty of food, water and shelter, the house mouse can multiply rapidly.  In order to alleviate the possibility of this rapid growth, it is best to alleviate these comforts and make the living conditions more stressful for the rodents.  This should slow down the reproduction considerably.

The behavior of rodents is dependent upon each particular situation and environment.  It is difficult to describe the “typical” behavior of mice, because rodents (including rats) may react slightly or even dramatically different from one site to another.

In cities, the entire life of some mice may be spent inside buildings.  In suburban and rural areas, the mouse may live in buildings, but the house mouse also commonly exists outdoors among the weeds and shrubbery or nearby building foundations, with storage sheds, garages and the crawlspaces below structures.  Outdoor mice feed on weed seeds, insects, or whatever other foods may be found.  When their food supply becomes scarce in the fall (especially in the colder climates), some of the mice move into occupied buildings.

Inside buildings, mice set up their nests near food sources and, once established, they stay close to home, traveling short distance between the food and the nest.  Nests are commonly located within walls, closets, ceiling and cabinet voids, within large appliances (e.g. the bases of refrigerators and ovens), in storage boxes, bureau drawers, desks, or within the upholstery of furniture.  Outdoors, mice construct their nests among debris or in ground burrows.

The size of a mouse’s territory within a building varies from one situation to another.  Territories depend upon the physical arrangement of the environment, the availability of food, and the number of other mice in the area.

Next week, we will learn more about the House Mouse and its feeding habits as well as some ways to control possible infestations.

Bennett, Gary W., Owens, John M., Corrigan, Robert M. Truman’s Scientific Guide to Pest Management Operations, Sixth ed. Cleveland:  Advanstar Communications, Inc. 2005.  Print.

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