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December 2010 cover image The Oil Spill & Texas

Wild Thing: Country Mouse

Texas mice want to live anywhere except your house.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Got a pesky mouse in the house? Chances are, it’s a house mouse (Mus musculus), an introduced species that first arrived by ship and then spread across the country. As you’ve noticed, scaly tailed house mice simply adore their cushy life indoors with you.

Not so for native species. Instead, most mice prefer to keep a far distance from humans. In Texas, we have 17 native mice species in the family Muridae. The most common of these species are in the genus Peromyscus, four of which are widespread in Texas.

“These mice look very similar, and most people wouldn’t be able to tell them apart,” notes Russell Pfau, an associate professor of biological sciences at Tarleton State University. “The most interesting thing about them is that each species has a slightly different habitat preference.”

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“Texas mice (Peromyscus attwateri) and white-ankled mice (Peromyscus pectoralis) both prefer rocky areas with oak or juniper,” he says. “But the white-ankled mouse seems to be pickier and will usually claim limestone ledges for itself, leaving the Texas mouse to look elsewhere. Deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) prefer more open, grassy areas. White-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) prefer more wooded areas.”

Though called the Texas mouse, Peromyscus attwateri ranges from Central Texas northward into Kansas and Missouri. Big eyes and ears help this nocturnal feeder find seeds and insects. Adept climbers, Texas mice also scamper up trees in search of nuts and berries.

Unlike house mice, which can bear up to 13 litters a year, Texas mice reproduce much slower. Little is known about their breeding habits, but biologists estimate that the species produces one or two litters of about four youngsters a year. Most live six or seven months; some live to the ripe age of 18 months. Many, however, turn into meals for birds of prey and snakes.

 

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