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Mouse Facts: Habits, Habitat & Types of Mice

A mouse with a window surgically implanted in its belly.
A mouse with a window surgically implanted in its belly. Though the tiny window, scientists could watch cancer cells grow and spread in real-time.
Credit: Laila Ritsma and Dr. Jacco van Rheenen.

A mouse is a small rodent with a pointed nose, furry round body, large ears and a long, often hairless, tail. There are hundreds of types of mice, divided into subfamilies of either Old World or New World species. Common varieties include deer mouse, house mouse, field mouse, wood mouse, dormouse, spiny mouse and zebra mouse. 

Though some people talk about mice and rats as if they were the same thing, they are actually different types of animals in the rodent family. Rats generally are larger than mice, and they can be bald, scaly and cylinder-shaped.

deer mouse
People can become infected with hantavirus by exposure to rodent droppings, particularly those of the deer mouse.
Credit: Steven Russell Smith Photos | ShutterStock

Size

Mice come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Some common mice colors are white, brown and grey. Some are very tiny and others are around the size of a baked potato. 

Mice typically grow from 1 to 7 inches (2.54 to 18 centimeters) in length and weigh between 0.5 and 1 ounce (.23 to .028 kilograms). The African pygmy is the smallest known mouse on the planet. It measures 1.2 - 3.1 inches (3.04 to 7.874 cm) and can weigh less than .35 ounces (.01 kg). These measurements do not include tail length. Some mice have tails that are as long as their bodies.

 

Where do mice live?

Mice are hardy creatures that are found in nearly every country and type of terrain. They can live in forests, grasslands and manmade structures easily. Mice typically make a burrow underground if they live out in the wild. Their burrow helps protect them from predators. Their natural predators are cats, birds, wild dogs and foxes.

Mice are nocturnal, meaning they like to sleep during the day. This is why pet mice or house mice can be heard playing or foraging during the night. Most wild mice are timid toward humans and other animals, but they are very social with other mice. Domestic mice are very friendly toward humans and can make good pets for older children and adults.

According to the RSPCA, mice are very territorial. Even domestic mice like to have a large area that they can claim as their own.

What do mice eat?

If you believe what you see in cartoons, you would think that mice eat cheese. Actually, they like to eat fruits, seeds and grains. They are omnivorous, which means they eat both plants and meat, and the common house mice will eat just about anything it can find. In fact, if food is scarce, mice will even eat each other.

Mice have voracious appetites. They eat around 15 to 20 times per day, so they build their homes nearby places that have readily accessible food sources.

Baby mice

When homes are infested with mice, humans will often find chewed up wires, books, papers and insulation around their home. Mice aren't eating these items, they are chewing them into pieces that they can use to make their nests. This is because mice nests are made from whatever the female mouse can find.

At around 4 to seven weeks old, a female mouse will mate and have young. She will carry her young for 19 to 21 days and give birth to four to a dozen babies, according to the University of Florida. Mice can have a new litter of babies every three weeks. 

Mice have unusual names. Females are does, males are bucks and babies are called pinkies because of their bright pink color. Baby mice are also called pups.

Pet mice can live up to six years, while wild mice usually only live around 1 to 2.5 years.

Classification/taxonomy

According to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), the taxonomy of mice is:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Rodentia
  • Suborder: Myomorpha
  • Family: Muridae
  • Subfamilies: Murinae (Old World rats and mice), Sigmodontinae (New World rats and mice)
  • Genera & species: Hundreds, including Mus musculus (house mouse), Apodemus flavicollis (yellow-necked field mouse), Apodemus sylvaticus (wood mouse), Peromyscus maniculatus (deer mouse), Micromys minutus (Eurasian harvest mouse) and Muscardinus avellanarius (hazel dormouse)

Conservation status: 

lab mouse
Mice trained to fear a specific scent pass on that knowledge to their babies and grandbabies through changes to their DNA.
Credit: Floris Slooff, Shutterstock

Most mice have healthy populations, though there are a few species that are endangered, such as the Alabama beach mouse. Massive hurricanes in past years have nearly wiped out their natural habitat. New Mexico's jumping mouse is also endangered due to wildfires, drought and other threats.

Other facts

Mice are much like humans in how their bodies and minds work. This is why laboratories use mice as test subjects for medicines and other items that may be used on humans. Nearly all modern medicine is tested on mice before they go to human medical trials.

Mice are tough little creatures when they have their minds set on a crunchy scorpion snack. They can withstand multiple scorpion bites

Mice can feel temperature changes and alterations in ground terrain through their whiskers. 

While communicating with each other, mice make ultrasonic as well as regular sounds.

Most mice are very good jumpers. They can jump nearly 18 inches (46 cm) in the air. They also are talented climbers and swimmers.

A mouse's heart can beat 632 beats per minute. A human heart only beats 60 to 100 beats per minute.

A wood mouse will shed its tail if the tail is caught by a predator.

Nina Sen contributed to this article.

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