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Mountain Home Magazine

A Mouse in the House

Dec 10, 2014 02:54PM

D. Gordon E. Robertson

“So many rodents, so little time.” That is the credo by which our cat, Chub, lives. Chub has always had a very close relationship with food, perhaps because he was an orphan and a stray and likely went hungry a lot when he was too little to catch much more than bugs. He has since developed into an extraordinary hunter; we know that because he regularly brings to us the catch of the day.

There are a few theories about why cats gift their humans with dead things. One is that they like the praise—“Oh, good kitty, you caught a mouse!”— that sort of thing. Another school of thought is that cats think we, the people with whom they live, are just poor providers. We couldn’t catch a flying squirrel or a turkey chick if our lives depended on it, and so it’s up to the cat (heavy sigh) to do the hunting for the pride.

Most mornings there are, complements of Chub, bits and pieces of his midnight snacks scattered about on the living room rug. He prefers to eat in the house, so he brings things in through the kitty door to enjoy. Sometimes the things he brings in are still quite lively, so then he and the other cats can have some good entertainment watching us trying to chase chipmunks and bunnies back outside. He catches, but does not eat, moles, voles, and these cute little mice with really long tails that I always thought were kangaroo mice.

It turns out, however, we do not have kangaroo mice in Pennsylvania. What we have are meadow jumping mice and woodland jumping mice. They are similar in appearance—light brown fur, light-to-white bellies, and tails that are five to six inches long. The meadow jumping mouse, Zapus hudsonius, likes grassy, brushy fields and woodland edges. The woodland jumping mouse, Napaeuzapus insignis, is what I think we have around our house. It prefers a hemlock/hardwood forest habitat rather than fields. It can leap up to ten feet—thus the name, I guess. Both the meadow and the woodland jumping mouse eat seeds, grasses, berries, fungi, worms, and insects. They are winter hibernators, curling up in underground burrows. The woodland variety has a longer gestation period than its meadow cousin and so usually has just one litter per season. Woodland babies are also thought to have a longer developmental period as compared to other small rodents, although it is, understandably, difficult to do much research on mouse parenting skills.