Mouse 1 – The mini-monsters

So you think a mouse is a mouse is a mouse. Wrong. There are more than thirty kinds on this earth of ours, and plenty of sub-species and characters which look like mice and are called mice but aren’t.

Mice and some hundreds of kinds of rats all belong to the family Muridae whose list of technical names would strain the brain of an Archimedes.

We know of three kinds in our mini-sanctuary and that’s more than enough to keep us on the hop. One is the mouse everyone knows (no, not Mickey though the Disney character is drawn from him). It is the commonest of all, found everywhere in the world. Perhaps because it is so successful it enjoys the scientific name mus musculus, “the muscular mouse”. We all know it as the house mouse because that’s where we so often find it – in our homes, raiding our larders, chewing our cheese, nesting in the lingerie. It’s a real survivor, this one, which has adapted perfectly to life amongst people.

Our house mice are seldom seen probably because they are nocturnal, shy and always hyper-cautious thanks to our local variety of predators like the genets, mongeese, caracals and those real pests, the feral cats.

They are about 16 cm long with a tail a bit less than half that, light brown and somewhat plain but far from dull fellows, as anyone whose kept white mice as pets will know. White mice are simply a variation of the everyday house mouse bred largely for laboratory experimentation. As childhood pets I found them much more lively and playful than boring hamsters, which did nothing but sleep or stuff food in their cavernous cheeks (worth watching only when the food is pieces of dry spaghetti). But everyone knows about them so let’s look at the other two.

One is the rakehell of the mouse world, more dashing and colourful than any other of our local inhabitants. He is the four-striped mouse, so named for the four narrow black stripes that run down the back of his body from neck to tail. Pale grey or white bands lie between the outer pairs of black stripes like the racing stripes along the sides of a teenager’s hot rod. The rest of his 220 cm body, half of it tail, is reddish-brown.

The handsome four-striped field mouse.
The handsome four-striped field mouse.

Sadly, the four-stripers bear a family curse: They are the staple diet of just about every hunter afoot, the living larder for every predator from hawks and ravens to mongeese. To compensate for this they breed like fury so the population swells and dies in waves. They are as attractive in taste as in personality and appearance.

The story will be continued next Friday /-


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