"I caught six yesterday," proclaimed Ms. Mouse Hater. She continued her tale, then, explaining that these rodents were so small they didn't trip the standard mousetraps. "I have to get more glue traps today."
That's how the conversation began, and soon everyone within earshot was involved in the debate about what kind of pests these really were and what was the best way to get rid of them.
"Are they dark with really small ears?" asked Miss Information. "Then they're shrews."
"Maybe they're voles," Mrs. Two Cents contributed, "or moles."
"No. Moles have those little finger things around their muzzles," Informative explained, illustrating with all her fingers wiggling about in front of her nose and mouth.
"If you've got six, you've got 100 more," said Mr. They're So Cute. "They really are cute, too."
"No they're not! I just hate them!" Hater exclaimed.
Former Farm Girl said, "They're not so bad until they climb up your leg!"
I thought I had some of the answers, since I have battled the buggers in three homes so far. The first one I saw I was certain burst spontaneously out of the dirt of a potted plant. My dumb city dog never noticed the newest resident of our home. It took a broom and a bucket to catch the speedy thing -- while I directed traffic from atop the coffee table.
The last war was waged in my office -- a trailer on our property, located just on the other side of the garden. I don't climb on furniture anymore. However, with five dogs in our home, I hate to set traps of any kind. One dog has gotten into D-Con two or three times now at houses she's visited, so poisons are out of the question. I finally adopted a cat to keep things in control at the office.
From all of this experience, I was voting for a short-tailed shrew as Hater's pest of the day. But I thought I'd investigate to be sure.
Mr. Cute was correct about shrews being prolific breeders. One female may have up to three litters of five to seven pups each year. However the meadow vole (field mouse) takes the prize with a female producing as many as 13 litters in her short, 1 1/2-year lifetime.
Notice that even while trying to clear up the confusion I found that the meadow vole is also called the field mouse. No wonder rodent identification is so confusing!
Of course Miss Information was right on as well. The short-tailed shrew, also called the giant mole shrew (yes, mole shrew), is 92 to 135 mm from nose to the tip of the tail. Their velvety, soft fur is slate gray with underparts only slightly less dark. And the tail is relatively short. A house mouse is larger with light brown to black above and white or buffy underneath and a scaly looking tail.
The star-nosed mole is in between the two in size, but is not likely to be found in a house. They eat aquatic insects, crustaceans and small fish, and their tunnels often open directly into bodies of water. And as Information demonstrated, they have 22 distinctive, fleshy appendages around the muzzle, which give it the "star-nosed" in front of its name.
A white-footed mouse is about the size of the mole and has large eyes and ears. He's pale to rich reddish brown above with white belly and feet. He's hard to tell from other species, but nests in hollow trees or vacant bird nests, not inside homes behind rafters or in hidden spots near food like the house mouse. The house mouse, of course, does well living with people. He eats any food available, including glue, soap and other household materials.
The field mouse (a.k.a. meadow vole) is also less likely to move inside. They nest above ground or in shallow burrows and cause damage to fruit trees by girdling the trunks and roots. I did read, though, that the white-footed mouse will "sometimes winter in empty summer cottages."
Shrews eat frequently, as much as three times their own weight each day. They eat invertebrates, small vertebrates, plant materials and seeds, and nest in tunnels. I don't know how that shrew found that houseplant in my townhouse, but I suppose it was only natural for him to try to find shelter there.
I'm not a rodent expert by any means. But based on some basic identification, feeding and nesting facts, I think we determined that Hater's visitors are in fact short-tailed shrews. She only caught one the second day, and is hopeful that means there aren't many more left. As anyone who has fought mice (or whatever) in their home knows, though, it's a good idea to keep those traps down to catch the stragglers or future generations.
Readers with more information on identifying pesky house rodents or with interesting mouse battling experiences are encouraged to respond to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Diane McCormack is a correspondent for The Brainerd Dispatch and a freelance writer living in north central Minnesota.)
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