Deer mice

Occasionally we find deer mice (genus Peromyscus) in the house. Even upstairs. One night, well, as Joann explained it in an email to a friend:

Sent: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 12:58 PM
Subject: New pet?

Hi.

The cats tamed a mouse today, and we were going to let it go outside. I opened my big mouth and said it would be warmer tomorrow, maybe we should hold it overnight and then let it go.

Then I left the house.

When I came back, this is what I found.

Home for the first deer mouse we decided to hold until the weather got slightly warmer. This 10-gallon aquarium took up prime countertop space in the kitchen. (Sink is to the left.) The deer mouse is having lunch in the plastic container. (Picture: 12/28/04.)

Home for the first deer mouse we decided to hold until the weather got slightly warmer. This 10-gallon aquarium took up prime countertop space in the kitchen. (Sink is to the left.) The deer mouse is having lunch in the plastic container. (Picture: 12/28/04.)

What Joann found was an old 10-gallon aquarium sitting on the countertop. Prime countertop space, mind you. Space between the sink and the cutting board, which is next to the stove. In the aquarium was a plastic dish with bird seed, cheese, and peanuts, another plastic dish with water, a paper-towel tube sans paper towels, and at least two inches of shredded newspaper for bedding. And the deer mouse.

This might be the deer mouse we eventually called Avril. (Picture: 12/28/04.)

This might be the deer mouse we eventually called Avril. (Picture: 12/28/04.)

Our friend wrote back: “That should be about the happiest deer mouse in Auburn. Now what’ll you do when it tells all its friends?” Funny remark. Another friend made a similar crack a few weeks later when... But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We released the mouse two days later. It had stopped raining, and even though there was snow on the ground, the air was decidedly warmer. We carefully dropped the deer mouse in one of the now-unused woodchuck holes in the backyard. The mouse hunkered down on the ground a moment—and then vanished! Joann and I both missed its quick exit.

Doesn’t that snout remind you of “Joe Camel”? (Picture: 12/28/04.)

Doesn’t that snout remind you of “Joe Camel”? (Picture: 12/28/04.)

Two weeks later, Edre and Circaea corralled another deer mouse. I called the local Audubon office as well as a naturalist familiar with deer mice. I wondered if there was some way to tag a deer mouse, or could I mark it with some sort of paint? I was curious: Is the same mouse (or mice) coming into the house? (How about fingernail polish? By using different colors across eight fore claws, I would have plenty of unique identification numbers, almost like bar codes on products or, better, like color stripes on electronic resistors.) Both people assured me that this mouse was mostly likely the same one caught earlier. In fact, the chances were excellent that the last mouse we caught and then released was back in the house before Joann and I got back into the house!

Gee, what do you suppose could be going through this mouse’s little mind? Joann likes this picture. (Picture: 12/28/04.)

Gee, what do you suppose could be going through this mouse’s little mind? Joann likes this picture. (Picture: 12/28/04.)

I was told that if I didn’t want the mice coming back into the house, I had to release them anywhere from half a mile to three miles away from the house. Doing that during the winter, though, would kill the mouse; it wouldn’t be able to find food and shelter fast enough in its new habitat.

A couple of nights later, yet another mouse was scampering about. Correction: Jumping about. Several times Joann came so close to catching it. Much later, around 2:00 a.m., I noticed the cats were intent on something below the stove. On a whim, I opened the drawer at the bottom of the stove. There was a mouse. Thirty minutes later—across the kitchen floor, across countertops, behind the dish rack, around the sink, back to the dish rack, to the floor again, now behind the refrigerator, into the downstairs bathroom, back and forth dozens of times in the radiator in the bathroom, then into the bathroom utility closet; me moving dishes, moving the refrigerator, taking apart the radiator, blocking the bottom of the bathroom door with towels; at some point Joann came downstairs bleary-eyed complaining about all the noise—I caught the mouse.

Now that we had two of these mice, and we really didn’t want to kill them, I decided to “accessorize” their habitat—starting with a screen on top of the aquarium to keep the cats away. The local pet store also had a fine selection of water bottles, which would help reduce water splashing onto the bedding and reduce the humidity in the tank. The impulse buy was the treadmill. The pet store clerk assured me the mice would use it. (She also told me I wasn’t the only person to outfit an aquarium to save wayward mice caught in the house during the winter.)

Aviva on the treadmill; Avril below the treadmill. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Even looking straight into their little beady black eyes it’s hard to tell one from the other. (Picture: 1/16/05.)

Aviva on the treadmill; Avril below the treadmill. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Even looking straight into their little beady black eyes it’s hard to tell one from the other. (Picture: 1/16/05.)

Hanging upside down from the screen “ceiling.” Definitely Avril. (Picture: 1/16/05.)

Hanging upside down from the screen “ceiling.” Definitely Avril. (Picture: 1/16/05.)

Joann named the mice Avril, which is French for April, and Aviva, which is Hebrew for spring. (That was a subtle hint that these mice are out of here come warmer weather.) Both of these deer mice are probably females. (Male mice have a noticeable scent, we were told.) Avril is smaller than Aviva. Both are cute, with their deer coloring (hence their name), big black eyes, and relatively large soft ears that are mostly alert, mostly attentive. (Other characteristics of deer mice: white feet and long tails.) Aviva has a lighter snout (the dark hairs across the top of her head stop between her eyes.)

The mice have different personalities. Avril is skittish; she’s the jumper and mostly stays hidden in a paper-towel tube. At night, we often found her walking upside down on the screen covering the aquarium. Aviva sits outside the tube and often watches what’s going on, even with the cats hovering about with wide eyes, glaring at her.

Also, Aviva loves the treadmill. She was using it within a couple of hours of its installation. She will run for long stretches of time, stop, and then let momentum carry her around and around until the treadmill stops revolving. It reminds me of the fairground ride where the floor drops down below you while centrifugal force keeps you glued against the inside wall of a spinning cylinder.

On the treadmill. Definitely Aviva. (Picture: 1/16/05.)

On the treadmill. Definitely Aviva. (Picture: 1/16/05.)

Aviva can also stop the treadmill at will by, I guess, moving her weight around. I’ve seen her spin around as many as eleven times. Sometimes she’ll stand, that is hang on, slightly sideways on the treadmill as it’s spinning her around. Watch carefully and you’ll see that she’s moving her head around, keeping her eyes more or less fixed on a point in space. Ballet dancers do that when pirouetting (and so do some contradancers when spinning); it helps in maintaining balance and in not getting dizzy.

Now that the mice are in my office, I practice my bagpipes in the bedroom. Not that I mind waking them up, but I do mind making them deaf. (The ear plugs I have are for Homo Sapiens.) However, occasionally at night, I’ll take my electronic chanter, place the headset upside down on the screen so that the sound coming out of the itsy-bitsy speakers goes into the aquarium, and play some bagpipe tunes or a piobaireachd (formal bagpipe music). By golly, Aviva will just sit there, listening. Her ears will stand upright, but neither her ears or her head are twitching. Then again, maybe she’s just stupefied. When I stop playing, then she’ll start twitching. (What’s the sound of one deer mouse paw clapping?)

A tangent. Joann and I have noticed that the squirrels and chipmunks don’t seem bothered by my practicing the bagpipes outside. They might be startled at first, but then they either sit and watch, and listen, or they go about their business foraging for food. Shades of The Pied Piper of Hamelin? (This version, by Robert Browning, 1812-1889, is a beautiful presentation of the story, including the original illustrations. Note that the “pied piper” was not a bagpiper. Details about this legend are on Jonas Kuhn’s “The Pied Piper Homepage.” Or click here for related legends. Come to think of it, most young children do seem entranced by bagpipes.) I’m wondering whether I should come up with a new business card for my bagpiping: “Rodent Exterminating. Does Weddings and Funerals, Too.”

One of the paper-towel tubes, and the deer mice’s primary “house,” had moved too close to the water bottle. Water dripped onto the tube, and the cotton the mice had stuffed inside to create their home got wet. This was cotton used as padding in a jewelry box. Now the mice were using it for insulation. Also, they like soft materials. No way was that cotton going to dry, so I pulled the tube out and cut off the wet end. This view would be from “inside” the house, inside the tube. Notice how packed the cotton is. Also, see that hole? That’s the entryway for the mouse. The toy mouse, Circaea’s favorite (out of about a dozen around the house) is sligthly smaller than the deer mice. (Picture: 3/6/05.)

One of the paper-towel tubes, and the deer mice’s primary “house,” had moved too close to the water bottle. Water dripped onto the tube, and the cotton the mice had stuffed inside to create their home got wet. This was cotton used as padding in a jewelry box. Now the mice were using it for insulation. Also, they like soft materials. No way was that cotton going to dry, so I pulled the tube out and cut off the wet end. This view would be from “inside” the house, inside the tube. Notice how packed the cotton is. Also, see that hole? That’s the entryway for the mouse. The toy mouse, Circaea’s favorite (out of about a dozen around the house) is sligthly smaller than the deer mice. (Picture: 3/6/05.)
Edre helping me clean out the aquarium for the deer mice. The mice are safely in a tube just outside the aquarium on Edre’s left. (Picture: 2/18/05.)

Edre helping me clean out the aquarium for the deer mice. The mice are safely in a tube just outside the aquarium on Edre’s left. (Picture: 2/18/05.)

Another view of Edre helping me clean out the aquarium. Circaea, in the window in back, supervises. (Picture: 2/18/05.)

Another view of Edre helping me clean out the aquarium. Circaea, in the window in back, supervises. (Picture: 2/18/05.)

Alas, February 18, Avril escaped while I was cleaning the aquarium. In doing this job, the mice typically hide in one of the paper-towel tubes. I just pick up the tube and put it into a larger tube, one that used to contain a fine single malt whisky. Then I close up the larger tube. With the mice trapped that way, I’m free to fully clean out the aquarium and take as much time as I need. (I also have a chance to hobnob with the cats. That particular day, Edre was particularly helpful in cleaning out the aquarium. She got in it.)

When I was done, I put the mice back into their clean home. Well, almost clean. Joann suggested I clean out the inside of the paper-towel tubes. In doing that, Avril hopped up onto my sleeve, then down to the floor. I lunged to catch her. I didn’t. Instead, I got two very large rug burns on my knee. For thirty minutes, Joann and I tried to corner, then catch, Avril. Corner her we did. Catch her we didn’t. We should have had the cats help us. We haven’t seen her since.

We really think Aviva was lonely those first two weeks after Avril escaped. We hardly saw her. However, these last couple of days Aviva has been back running on the treadmill with a vengeance. I counted her revolving nine times the other night.




Update: Another one
(March 20, 2005)

In our last episode, Avril had escaped. That was mid-February. That was also the last time I cleaned the deer mouse “cage” (glass tank). For the past week or two, I had been thinking about cleaning the tank again. Then, last night, as Joann and I were watching a movie in the living room, Circaea was acting, well, cat-focused-on-mouse like in the kitchen. I checked. Sure ’nuff, she had cornered a deer mouse.

We paused the movie and made some quick attempts at catching the mouse. “We” means both Joann and I, and Circaea and Edre. (I think Max was watching all this from the kitchen table. He may be old, but when it comes to mice, he’s decisive.) Finally, Joann and I placed two Havahart traps at the mouse’s two egresses from behind the refrigerator and left the cats to stand watch. We bipeds then went back to watch the movie.

An hour-plus later, when the movie was over, we checked the mouse situation. Both cats sat intently, strategically placed so each covered an egress and still see the other cat. Pretty impressive that.

Joann washed the dishes while I pulled the refrigerator a couple of inches from the back wall and side cabinets, poked around with a long yardstick, and assessed everything with a flashlight or two. After twenty minutes of that, Joann went upstairs to get ready for bed. The cats and I remained to try to catch the mouse, which by this time was in the floor register at the other end of the kitchen. Circaea tried her damnedest to flush out the mouse with her paw. This valiant effort was stymied by a very long corner register that runs against two walls. Edre provided backup support.

Finally, the mouse moved to the end of the register nearest me. This usually doesn’t help much (in catching mice), but this time the mouse’s tail was sticking out from under the register. Joann had warned me not to grab the mouse by its tail (the potential exists to strip the skin off the mouse’s tail), so instead I put my hand down to cover as much of the tail as I could and pressed down. (This versus pinching the tail with two fingers.) Then I dragged the tail around the end of the register and with my other hand, grabbed the mouse’s back leg, figuring I could pick up the animal.

Good theory, and it actually worked. However, this procedure would have been a lot safer if I were wearing gloves. In trying to get away, the mouse turned around and nipped my finger. Quickly—almost with one sweeping motion—I picked up the mouse by its tail and back leg and dropped it in one of my hiking boots. I then slapped my hand down on top of the boot. The mouse was trapped.

Holding the boot between both hands, I ran upstairs and hollered to Joann to open the cover of the mouse tank. She did so I could hold the boot upside down, shake it, and let the mouse fall out into the tank. She then quickly put the cover back on the tank.

That’s when all hell broke loose inside the tank. The new one mouse jumped around and around from one end of the tank to the other and started fighting with Aviva, who also jumped around and around, and on and off the treadmill, sometimes racing around in the treadmill, and also did her share of fighting back. While Joann refereed, I went downstairs and liberally swabbed my finger with isopropyl alcohol, then with Bactine. There was a very little bit of blood coming from a cuticle where the mouse bit me. I rubbed at that to keep the blood flowing and I kept soaking my finger in Bactine.

Five minutes—tops—I went back upstairs to see how things were going. Joann was softly singing to the mice, which definitely calmed them down.

We put a towel over the cage so the mice would have “solid” walls around them... and no cats peering from outside. We then went to bed. That is, Joann and I went to bed. I don’t remember having either Circaea or Edre on the bed last night.

This morning, I decided to clean the tank. That went mostly without a hitch. Interestingly, this new mouse urinated twice soon after it was loose in the cleaned cage. Why is this interesting? Joann and I had not seen the mice do that before.

This new mouse seems longer and thinner than what we remember of Avril, the mouse that escaped. Also, this mouse has a very long tail and some scratches in its fur. We don’t think this mouse is Avril, but then (a) the mouse might still be getting used to being captured (again) and (b) who knows? I still wish I could tag these guys to positively identify who’s who, and who’s returning. (Maybe Avril is still out there. Gee, catch it and “Collect all three!”)

As I write this, Aviva is running, running, running in the treadmill. (This still being morning, the treadmill exercise will go on for about thirty minutes, then Aviva will go to sleep in the paper tube.) The new mouse is in the paper tube. (There are two tubes; both mice are using the old tube, the one packed with cotton, for their home.) And Edre is watching things very closely. (Unfortunately for Edre, not the mice, the “long paw of the law” can’t get into the glass tank.)

Temperatures outside are warming up. The snow is melting. Usually there’s one more snowstorm in early April, followed by warm, snow-melting days. Joann and I are figuring another two to three weeks from now we’ll release the mice outside.




Update: Released!
(April 17, 2005)

We released the two deer mice on Thursday, April 14. It was a warm, sunny day and the next day was forecasted to be the same. As Joann explained in an email:

Sent: Thursday, April 14, 2005 2:55 PM
Subject: Big Event?

We released the two mice this afternoon. They bounded off into the woods near Lake Massabesic, with scarcely a look back at us. We were hoping to get a picture, but they got small too fast. Larry is quite sad. Next year he’s going to condition the new crop of mice to look for food when he plays his pipes, so that when we release them, they’ll come for a visit when he pipes near the lake.

Sigh.




Deer, company is here
(February 25, 2006)

This morning, Floreat (L. may it flourish) joined us. Welll, “joined” might be a stretch. For two nights, Edre and Circaea have been mostly busy, especially last night. Early in the evening, we stuffed towels under the piano in the living room. This effectively created one escape route for the deer mouse underneath said piano. We then put two Havahart traps on the floor in front of the fourth, a narrow, side of the piano. The assumption was that the deer mouse would eventually crawl out from under the piano and, rather than be caught by the cats, and because there was food in the Havahart traps, the deer mouse would run/walk into one of the traps.

Note operative word: “assumption.”

This morning, namely, when the sun rose, Joann started her day. The eventually named Floreat had already started its day. Floreat was sitting on top of a curtain rod in the living room. Joann managed to coax Floreat into a Tupperware container, which had been properly accessorized with strips of paper, a toilet paper tube, and a plastic dish with pine nuts and sunflower seeds.

The cats must have had a busy night last night. They’ve been asleep all morning. Same with the deer mouse. Floreat is asleep, too. The mouse has yet to discover the McMansion right in front of it: a paper towel tube.




Update: Splish splash!
(June 5, 2007)

Let Joann explain what happened, as she did in her email awhile back:

Date: Tue, 26 Dec 2006 15:57:48 -0500
Subject: Resident mouse

Looks like we may have a winter resident again. Last night Larry fell asleep on the sofa and awoke to a curious splashing sound in the kitchen. In the sink, still full of dishwater, he found a mouse swimming, unable to climb out. He fished it out and put it in the mouse house (aka 10-gal. aquarium). It was so exhausted it kept stumbling and falling over. Larry gave it some sunflower seeds, which it started devouring; set it up with some amenities and a dry cloth; and went to bed.

At 5:30 this morning, the mouse was dry, poking into all the nooks in the mouse house, eating more sunflower seeds, and grooming every centimeter of its body. It paused to listen to my voice, but didn’t seem scared until I ran the faucet, at which point it hid again. I guess it’s had enough of large quantities of water for a while.

Larry SAYS that he’s thinking about releasing the deer mouse, as it’s still pretty mild outside. But then why is the mouse house furnished with half an egg carton, a cardboard tube, shredded paper, a watering tube, a treadmill, climbing sticks, and a large food dish? Not to mention one of my favorite dish cloths? Hmm?

Anyway, IF we keep the mouse until spring, I’m thinking we should name it for someone born on the 25th of December.

Sadly, that mouse stayed very much hidden in its little home out of shredded paper, and it died a week or two later.

In the 2006-2007 winter season, I caught four? five? deer mice, and wound up keeping two in the “mouse house” for a while before letting them loose (live, or in the case of the Après Xmas mouse, dead).




Update: Email about Hanta virus
(August 6, 2009)

LisaMJ asked by email: “Just curious if you were concerned about Hanta virus?”

My longish response is here.




Update: Email about finding a deer mouse
(April 3, 2010)

Joan wrote this hilarious email to me, and the follow up.



The end. (Picture: 12/28/04.)

The end. (Picture: 12/28/04.