Humans are the most successful species of mammal on the planet, with a population of 7.5 billion. But, here in the UK we are outnumbered by another type of mammal – the house mouse. At this moment in time, there are just over 65 million people living here but there are somewhere around 78 million house mice.
Despite their huge population, you will probably see very few house mice. They are secretive creatures who spend most of their lives hidden in underground tunnel complexes. During the summer they live outdoors in fields and the edges of gardens but, at this time of year when the weather turns cold, they will often venture into our homes.
They are clever and curious creatures, and also very agile, so they can usually find a way in. Pipes, drains and even gaps under doors all provide a means of entry. Once they get into our homes, they will want to stay – all that food just sitting there waiting to be eaten, and the nice cosy central heating – bliss!
So, how do you know if you have mice? Well, there are a few clues. Firstly, you will probably see their droppings. These are only a few millimetres long but will be quite evident. You may also find mouse footprints. The remains of gnawing are another giveaway – mice bite and chew in order to grind down their teeth.
If you do have mice then you’ll have to take action. The most popular course is probably to use poison, but I would counsel against this – how do you know that the mice will be the only victims? If a cat or bird of prey eats a poisoned mouse then it may well die. Traps are an alternative, and not necessarily fatal. There are many humane traps on the market which are just as effective as the traditional, spring-loaded neck-breakers.
Another thing to bear in mind is the appalling way we’ve treated the house mouse. We’ve bred them as caged pets (the fancy mouse is a breed of house mouse) and, worse still, as laboratory animals. They are by far the most-used mammal in animal experiments. So, they sometimes invade our houses, but I think that they have much more reason to gripe about us than we do them.
If you’d like to find out more about the house mouse, have a look at this RSPB guide. And then, why not play our Nature Quizzes? They include three all about British mammals – have a look and see if you can find the house mouse in there!